‹ All Episodes

#5: Do your homework, speak your mind, and don’t be afraid.

July 11, 2018 | 53 minutes 22 seconds

Series host Jill James caught up with EHS Specialist Brandy while she was in the midst of studying for the Associate Safety Professional (ASP) exam, and just before attending ASSE’s SAFETY 2018 conference in San Antonio. After earning her bachelors in biology, Brandy got her start in safety doing industrial hygiene, where she “was excited to get in to asbestos”, to pay the bills after college. This discussion covers how annoying it must be for friends and family when you are unable to turn-off your ‘safety vision’ away from the job, and dealing with the old school safety mentality when you’re not only young but also a woman. 2 years into her current role, Brandy is writing custom lockout/tagout procedures for hundreds of unique pieces of machinery. She talks about the value of touring an organization “…so focused on safety, it’s crazy…” and offers her three pieces of advice for new safety professionals.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number five. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and today I'm joined by Brandy, who is an EHS Specialist in the electronic manufacturing industry in the southeastern part of the United States. Welcome, Brandy.

Brandy:

Thanks for having me, Jill.

Jill:

Yeah, you know what, we're so excited to have you. This is episode number five, and all of the other people that we have had in our podcast so far have had quite a number of years of experience as a safety profession, and Brandy, you are very new to the field. And I'm so excited that you are being brave to share your story first for all of the other people who are in your same position.

Brandy:

Yeah, I'm a little nervous, but I would like to be ... I don't know what I'm saying here.

Jill:

You would like to maybe be that first person.

Brandy:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, to be a mentor. That's great. Earlier this year I was at the American Society of Safety Engineers Future Safety Leaders Conference and I had been kindly asked to keynote their opening. So I had this audience of a few hundred people who are just new to the career, just starting out, they're just finishing their degrees, and I bet their ears specifically, and others like them would love to hear from you today, Brandy.

Brandy:

That sounds good.

Jill:

So, how new are you to this field anyway?

Brandy:

I've been at my current job as an EHS Specialist for almost two years now. Right after college I got into a chemistry lab, I was doing that for about two years. I actually moved cities and had to find a brand new job and I was just randomly looking for anything. You know, at that point you just need a job to pay the bills. I got a job as an industrial hygienist. I just applied and hoping for the best and the lady contacted me asking me if I knew anything about it, and I was like, "Not really," but she wanted to find someone who was fresh and didn't have any bad habits. So she just took me on and I learned a lot from working with her for about two years. After that, I had kind of a bad experience. The last month or two I was working with asbestos, I was monitoring for the removals, and the contractors basically doing the removals weren't following any safety precautions and I just didn't want to have to deal with that or have to be-

Jill:

Exposed.

Brandy:

Exposed, exactly, to that. So I was just looking for a job and I found EHS Specialist, because they had a brand new facility opening up and they needed someone and I applied. I guess they liked all my experience with IH and I got the job.

Jill:

Congratulations.

Brandy:

Like I said, I've been here for only two years, but, yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, nothing like jumping in with both feet into an asbestos role, that's big stuff.

Brandy:

Yeah, and I did mostly, it was a good amount, it was probably 50% of my IH job was asbestos, either inspections or removal.

Jill:

Yeah, Brandy, let's back up to your education a little bit because that sounds interesting as well. What is your degree in?

Brandy:

It's actually in biology.

Jill:

Okay, okay. So a Bachelor's Degree in biology. You graduated and thought, "Okay, what am I going to do with this?"

Brandy:

Yeah. And I really had no idea. I think we all just, in college we just go where we're interested in and we really don't know what we want to do, well most of us, I can't speak for all of us. I didn't really know, but I just knew biology is pretty much all I was interested in, so yeah.

Jill:

And so you're searching the job landscape after you graduated from college and where were you looking, where did you think you might end up?

Brandy:

I was thinking environmental, but I applied and I interviewed for a few environmental jobs, but didn't get it. So I guess that was a blessing. I had to keep going and I found that IH job, but yeah, I was mostly looking environmental, but didn't happen.

Jill:

Right, right. And so you mentioned that the person that eventually offered you that first IH job was looking for someone who didn't have any experience, someone they could sort of mentor along the way and teach the way that they wanted the work done. What was that like, what was she looking for or what was her background?

Brandy:

Well she has been doing IH for, I don't know, at least 20 years. She had tons of experiences, and yeah, she just wanted someone who was fresh. I guess she had people in the past who just had bad habits. I don't know exactly what that means, but she just wanted someone to be able to teach and show them exactly how she wants things to be done, I think. So I guess if you're looking for a job or something, don't be afraid to apply to places you don't know about because you never know what could happen. For example, IH, I didn't have any experience and she wanted someone fresh and the safety job, I mean, I had two years of IH, but not safety, and the job said three to five years and I just applied and got it. So you really never know what people are looking for.

Jill:

Right, right. So did she end up being a good mentor for you on the IH piece?

Brandy:

Yeah, she was. She taught me a lot. I ended up writing a lot things, learning a lot of things, because I did a lot of noise monitoring and exposure monitoring and I had to learn all that. What exactly it means and when I get the results back, what do I need to tell these clients so they improve their work conditions.

Jill:

Right, right. So was that exciting to you when you first got going or were you like, "This is kind of overwhelming," or how did you approach that?

Brandy:

No, I was really excited because it was something totally different. I was excited to get in to asbestos because no one really knows about it, they see the commercials, but they really don't know anything about it. And you have to have certifications and take week long classes, just to be able to look at a microscope at it or just monitor, but yeah, I was just really excited. I mean, it was overwhelming at some points just because it's not just one thing you do. I did asbestos and had to learn how all the pumps work, and how to document it properly, things like that.

Jill:

How to calibrate them, all that.

Brandy:

Yes, exactly. You know, I just take notes and I'm pretty good. If you just take notes then you can just look back instead of constantly asking your boss how to do it again.

Jill:

You became your own textbook, to teach you how to keep doing it.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly, yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, very good. That's cool. And so, when it was time to make your next stop into your current job, how did that work for you? So you had this IH experience for a couple of years, you apply for this next job, were they interested in what you had been doing? Did that help you get to the next place?

Brandy:

Yeah, I think it definitely did because, like I was saying, this is a new facility and we have new production areas coming in. I mean, we have IH people come in all the time because we're adding new areas, and when you add a new area where production increases, you're supposed to re-monitor those people. So I think that was the biggest thing, is that I had the experience. And I know limits people need to be exposed to, and I know how to fit test because I did that, things like that.

Jill:

So those were appealing to your new employer.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

So when you started this job that you're in right now, how did the safety introduction go? How have you been kind of easing your way into learning those skills?

Brandy:

Well, every day is different, I can say that at a manufacturing facility.

Jill:

Yes it is.

Brandy:

You kind of just put out the fire, whatever's going on at the time. And if you don't know, you just try to look it up, look in all the textbooks you have, or just look online, all the OSHA regulations and try to figure out what exactly needs to be done to make sure you're in compliance. It's kind of just, you have to look for yourself, I guess.

Jill:

I think that would resonate with a lot of safety professionals since we're often solo operators, we really have to rely on ourselves and any peers that we might know who are working in our same sphere. Do you have, is there someone who's mentoring you in safety right now, like where you work?

Brandy:

Well, like I said, I'm one of the only EHS people, they just hired another person to work with me, but I'm one of the only EHS people here. At our other sister plants, we have some people that have been here a long time and their plants are just really good, and they're just in compliance. So if I have any questions I can ask them, but not really here. I don't really have a manager. I mean, I have a facility manager over top of me, but not an EHS manager to really ask questions to. But as I'm getting more involved, I'm getting more involved in ASSE and going to the chapter meetings, I'm meeting a lot more people who are very open and they're constantly just saying, "Hey if you need anything, contact me and add me on LinkedIn." The safety professionals seem to be just very open, just because they don't really have many people and they want to talk about it and they want to kind of just talk to each other, you know?

Jill:

We are a friendly bunch it turns out.

Brandy:

Yeah, yeah. For sure we are.

Jill:

That's great, that's great. So you get this new job, and you're the only one there. You have some peers, but they're in different locations. How did you decide where to start, what was the first thing you decided to tackle?

Brandy:

The first thing was this woman got hurt, she fell off, literally it was a one foot platform, kind of tripped off of it. So the first thing I had to do was figure out at what height do you need a railing. And now I think about it, and I'm like, "That is so basic." But I remember just looking at the OSHA standard and being like, "Okay, four feet, yeah, for general industry four feet." And it just sounds so basic, but that was the very first thing I had to do. I had to write some accident reports and things like that.

Jill:

It's not really basic, Brandy. I mean a lot of people struggle with those same things. I get a lot of questions on that myself.

Brandy:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, and when I worked for OSHA, I had so many numbers and distances memorized and the farther I am away from day to day practice, the less it's top of mind and I still have to reach for my regulations to double check my memory. Most of the time I'm right, but I don't always trust myself when I have to look things up, too. That's okay.

Brandy:

Yeah, yeah. It's definitely okay to look things up because there's just so many numbers that you need to know about, and just so many regulations that, it's hard to keep track of. It's really hard. I'm constantly looking and making sure I'm documenting everything I need to document, whether it's training, because they have weird things. They might be like, "You need to document this summary, or you need to have a signature." You know what I mean?

Jill:

Right, right, right. Every piece of the law is so different with different requirements. So it sounds like maybe a lot of your career right now, early on, is really trying to learn the OSH regulations?

Brandy:

Yeah, that's definitely correct. And I'm actually studying to take my ASP, my Associates Safety Profession cert-

Jill:

Oh my gosh.

Brandy:

Yeah, so I'm studying for that. And I'm taking, because I'm going to the ASSE Safety Conference upcoming in June, and they have a, I guess a training class, so I'm going to that. And then I take my test in early July. I've been studying about that and I've been learning a lot. Stuff that I don't really deal with day to day, but things that I should know. But yeah, there's just a lot of numbers and things to know.

Jill:

There is. Way to jump into the profession with both feet, Brandy. It takes some of us many, many years to decide that they're going to study for their ASP during their CSP. That's really cool. So when you're trying to find resources by way of the OSHA regulations, right now, how are you doing that? Are you using the OSHA website, or what resources are you using for that piece?

Brandy:

Yeah, I normally just google what I'm looking for, say it's confined space, I'll just google confined space regulation, usually it pops up and goes through. I have a lot of books that says, it's not the regulations, it's a breakdown of the regulations, so it's lot easier to understand. I have a lot of books like that, and I've used those all the time, whether it's figuring out if something's recordable or not or you know, just blood borne pathogens, is just a lot.

Jill:

Yeah, so having a resource that's kind of interpreted the OSHA regulations for you, so that you don't have to read the straight regulation.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly, and it's very helpful. I would definitely recommend looking into that, or just finding something that does interpret the regulations, because sometimes they can be confusing.

Jill:

Yeah, they can. Yeah, that's a good tip for people to know that those kind of resources do exist, I've never used them in my career, and by way of them, I mean an interpretation of the regulations. And I think that's only because my graduate program I had an entire course just focused on how to read the regulations. And so educationally I got that piece, but it's so difficult for so many people to try to figure out, "What the heck? First, how do you read them? Second, what does it mean? Third, what's it tied to in relationship to all this other stuff that's around it written and now the government has interpretations on some of this stuff, how do I find those?" It is very confusing, and so that's really a good tip for people, too, if you're not steeped in how to read regulatory text. Which let's face it, how many people are. To find those resources that have essentially digested it and put it into easy to read format. Cool, very cool. So what're you tackling now? Other than of course understanding the regulations, kind of what's day to day like right now, by way of your priorities?

Brandy:

What I'm working on now is, like I said, we're a growing facility, and we are constantly getting new equipment from other facilities. So I'm trying to figure out what equipment's coming in because we have to write our air permit and you have to know what is emitting to the environment, how much, things like that. So I've been trying to figure all that out as far as air. And then, I've also been writing our lockout/tagout procedures for all of our equipment in our facility.

Jill:

Wow.

Brandy:

Because we're getting all new equipment, like I said, and we don't have site specific. For about, I mean, our facility's pretty big, we have about 300 machines and getting more, it's a hard task and it has to be specific. Because obviously you don't want to mess it up, it's very important, it's very important. So yeah, that's something I've been really working hard on.

Jill:

Those are some really big tasks that you're tackling there, and really important ones. Are you finding ways to make relationships with people in your facility now, that you can ask for help or guide you through things? You're mentioning equipment and bringing new equipment in, I'm wondering if you're talking with operations people? Or same thing with the lockout/tagout procedures, are you talking with operators, or how are you handling that?

Brandy:

Yeah, so for our lockout/tagout procedures I have our facility manager, he's an engineer so he knows how to tell where the electricity's going and if it's a certain voltage and things like that. And then when you're writing your lockout/tagout procedures you always want to talk to the operator or maybe a facility guy who works on it or something like that, to know all the energy sources you're looking at. And then as far as air, we have a third party that helps us go through and make sure we're sending everything in that we need to send so we're in compliance.

Jill:

Yeah. Those are really good tips for people starting out who are listening, Brandy. What's it been like, or how did you approach getting into those conversations and asking for help with people in your own facility? Have you asked for meetings with people, how did you build those relationships?

Brandy:

Well, normally if I'm going to do a lockout/tagout procedure, I'll just let them know that I'm going to be coming down and doing that and they're pretty open. It seems most people want to have their facility improved, so they're pretty open, it seems that they'll meet with you. What normally happens is I'll just be like, "Hey I'm going to be down there looking at your whatever machine today, can you help us figure out all the sources?"

Jill:

That's awesome, that's awesome. So you're brand new to the field, and you know you're trying to build your own credibility as well as your own knowledge base, and you're teaching yourself along the way, what's the craziest thing you've done so far to try to build street cred with your work force?

Brandy:

I pretty much, if any of my operators ask for something, I try to go out of my way to get them the things that they want. For example, some people need safety glasses with bifocals, so I try to get them what they want. But sometimes they do get kind of picky. I'll get them what want, I'll get them the bifocals and then they'll be like, "I don't want frames on them, I don't like these black frames." So I try to get them the clear ones. I think it's good that I do that because I think it builds trust and they know that I'm looking out for their best interest and I want them to be comfortable with what they're doing. I just try to go out of my way to make them feel comfortable at their job.

Jill:

That's good, that's good. Have you done any jobs alongside people to learn how something works?

Brandy:

Oh yeah. Especially when you're doing risk assessments. You definitely need to be down there to figure out what are the risks. You need to talk to the operators, they're the ones that know, not the managers who don't spend any time in there. So you'll ask the operators, "Hey, what's the most hazardous thing you do at your job?" They'll tell you, because they're not shy about it.

Jill:

Those are really important things to do with the workforce.

Brandy:

Yeah, and it's good to get out there. I had a third party come in, they were helping us with something. And they were just impressed with how many people I knew, because I guess a lot of safety people don't get out, and they meet the operators. He was just impressed. So, I think it's really good for you to get out there and know who's actually doing the production and who you are trying to help because then you form relationships and you form trust and they're more likely to follow the safety rules that you're trying to put in place.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. Safety's not a job that happens inside the four walls of an office, that's for sure.

Brandy:

Yeah, definitely.

Jill:

When you were talking about meeting with operators and observing their work and asking them questions about what they're doing, that's one of my favorite things about our profession, is getting to learn how do people do what they do, how is something made, what is their day to day work like? And then while I'm making those observations, I've some how picked up over the years, watching and looking for things that don't look like a regular tool.

Brandy:

Yeah.

Jill:

And maybe you've already seen this, Brandy. Maybe you've picked up on this, but my eyes are always ... As a former OSHA person, my eyes are always looking for hazards and picking up different things, but I often would see, maybe a piece of a broomstick, or a piece of metal that maybe had some kind of a funny bend in it and some duct tape wrapped around it, or something that's leaning up against the corner of a wall that looks like, "This could be a tool, but somebody made that."

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Have you seen some of that?

Brandy:

I have. I've seen a tool like that. Yeah. Because we have some kilns that we use, and I guess when the kiln brick can get stuck, because it goes through the kiln, it's like a conveyor belt. It can get stuck and they use a metal pole that they just rigged up to make sure the kiln brick goes straight. And then, the one I saw recently was, it wasn't a tool, but they have these stools that are just metal, and I guess the operators were slipping off them and also they were saying it hurt their behind to sit on. So they were taping bubble wrap on the top of the stool to make it more comfortable. So yeah, I've seen stuff like that.

Jill:

So our safety professional eyes pick up on that comfort piece, too, and we're able to ask, "Why is this?" And then are we able to find a way to offer something that's more comfortable for employees.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Yeah, and by way of those kind of homemade tools, and I guess, that's what I would call it, it just takes the conversation that you're having with operators to a different level and it allows you to discover things you might not know otherwise by just simply watching someone do their work for a little while, or asking a few questions when they tell you, "Oh yeah, we use this tool because we always get this jam in this one place. Or we have to get around this guard, or we're circumventing x,y, and z." Or I've heard, "Those safety people had us do this but they didn't know that we needed to see or do or access whatever point it was, and so we just found a work around for it." And so, I think those are good things to be on the lookout for and ask those deeper questions to find out what's going on when your eyes aren't there to watch it and what their day to day work is like.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

What is your family thinking of your job so far? Do people know kind of what you're doing with safety and are you kind of bringing some of that knowledge home and people are like, "Brandy, what the heck happened to you, you got a biology degree?"

Brandy:

Not really. I haven't experienced anything like that. Well, there is a few things. For example, if I'm out and about, and I'll be with people and I cross a construction site by the road, and I see them without safety glasses on and I'm like, "How do you not have safety glasses on? You need that." And I've actually gone to the fence and be like, "Hey you need your safety glasses." Because they were doing concrete work and it's not like it wasn't needed, they weren't just standing there, you know? And, like I said, I've been on vacation where there's people on the roofs at the beach, they're cleaning the tops of the roofs, and with the water, and they don't have any harnesses on. And these are tall buildings, and I'm just like, "Oh my gosh." And then I tell the people I'm with and their just like, "How do you know that?"

Jill:

Welcome to the safety practice, Brandy.

Brandy:

Yeah, I definitely take it outside of work for sure. I still try to look out for people because maybe they just don't know, you know what I mean?

Jill:

Exactly, exactly. You just said something critical there, maybe they just don't know. And I think, that is what our career is, is teaching people what they don't know, and as it turns out, that's a big job, that's a big job. And so turning off the safety button, I bet if we polled a bunch of safety people, I bet we would say with nearly 100% certainty, we don't turn it off. When we leave work, and sometimes it annoys the people in our personal lives.

Brandy:

Yeah, definitely. You see like a fire extinguisher at a restaurant with stuff in front of it, and you're like, "Oh no, that shouldn't be blocked." You know what I mean?

Jill:

Right? Yes.

Brandy:

So yeah, I'm sure it does annoy the people I'm around.

Jill:

Sometimes I just sort of quietly fix things.

Brandy:

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Jill:

When I see some sort of electrical cord that's hanging out of the socket that has the opportunity to build heat or something, or two cords plugged together and they're not tight together, I'll just go fix stuff sometimes.

Brandy:

Yes, exactly. That's exactly right and I won't tell anyone, but ... Trying to mitigate the hazard.

Jill:

So what drives you crazy about this profession so far?

Brandy:

Probably hard headed employees, mostly older people, older gentlemen, usually who don't want to follow the rules when you're literally there to try to keep them safe. Like the old school mentality, "I've been doing this for X amount of years, I don't need to wear a harness, or I've been doing this however long, I'm fine, I don't need gloves or whatever." So it's kind of hard to deal with that old school mentality that they won't get hurt, it won't be them, you know?

Jill:

Right, I call those safety cliches. You'll continue to grow tired of hearing those safety cliches, and I bet people listening would say the same thing that if we had this little tape that we could just kind of rewind all the safety cliches that we hear, it's the same thing over and over again. Like, "That safety stuff makes me more dangerous, or it slows me down, or I've been doing it this way for this long, or nobody ever got hurt doing ..." It's like, "Oh yes, if you only knew how many hundreds of time I've heard this." You had mentioned the older work force, especially some of your male counterparts. Have you found ways to be successful in getting through to them so far?

Brandy:

I think, so I've been here two years and I think the longer I'm doing this that they start to actually trust what I have to say, yeah. So I think just being around them and just having that expertise and them listening to you and knowing that you do know what you're talking about.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. Have you run into some sexism along the way, along that same lines?

Brandy:

Yeah, I would say that, just because I think since I'm, not only young, but I'm also a woman, people are less likely to take me seriously. That's what I found, they're more likely to talk over you when you're saying something. And they kind of don't fully trust your knowledge, but like I said, I've been here two years and I feel that now, the more people see me and they understand I do know what I'm talking about, that they do start to trust me and they do start to take me more seriously. They do ask me questions, because they know, I'm the person they need to come to, because I do know the answer, this is what I do, you know what I mean?

Jill:

Yeah. I wish that I had some sort of magic wand to solve that problem, and if I had it I'd share it with you and I'd share it with the rest of the audience. I don't. I think sometimes it's experimental on our end to try to figure out how to get through some of those stereotypes. I remember when I was a very, very new investigator with OSHA, I was in my early 20's, maybe like you are now. I was inspecting a manufacturing facility, and it was full of punch presses. And punch presses, for anybody who knows safety, knows that they're pretty complicated by way of machine guarding and trying to figure out, what kind they are and how they're powered and all that business. And I walked into the facility and I thought, "Oh man, this is going to be hard today. I'm just learning this stuff, too. I happen to have a good mentor on that." I got through the inspection and I was working with whoever their designated safety person was and we got done with the day and he said to me, "You know, I have to tell you something, when I got the call from the office that an OSHA person was here and that I needed to come up and meet you," he said, "I was really excited because I really needed help with my job because there's a lot of things I was trying to accomplish here that I haven't been able to do." He didn't have the ability to get through to his management team, they weren't taking him seriously, so he was kind of hoping that OSHA would be that, to help him get things accomplished.

Brandy:

Wow.

Jill:

That happened kind of often in my job. Safety people would be like, "Thank you so much for inspecting me, now I'm going to get to do stuff." And so he said that, and then he said, "But then I opened the door to the office and I saw it was you, and that you're a woman, and I was so disappointed."

Brandy:

Wow.

Jill:

He said, "Because I didn't think I was going to learn anything."

Brandy:

Yeah, I hate that. It's terrible.

Jill:

Right? But then he followed up with, "You totally surprised me, thank you." And I thought, "Well, I guess this is a compliment. And I will accept it." But what an unfortunate way for him to walk in to the situation assuming that I wouldn't know, because of my gender. You know, that has stuck with me for 23 years. I think, Brandy, you're saying that, as people understand that you're the resource and that they can go to you and that you have answers for them, that trust will increase. And is it a by-product of your gender? Maybe. Maybe no one's been as bold to you as they were to me, back then, about that. Like I said, if I had a magic wand to get through and pass that, gosh, I would sure offer it up.

Brandy:

Yeah, well you kind of just tell. They don't have to say that to you, like I said, they're more likely to talk over you and they just don't listen, they just interrupt you and don't listen to what you have to say, even though it's like, "I'm the safety person. I've researched this before we talked about it and I know that this is what we need to do." But they just, you know?

Jill:

Yeah, and I think you'll get more brave. And maybe if I had anything to offer, and it's taken me years to get to this point myself by way of when people interrupt you and want to speak over you, you know, I'll take a breath. Just take a breath for moment, because you're kind of angry when people are interrupting you and cutting you off in mid-sentence. To then look at them and say, "Excuse me, I need to finish my thought, I have something to say, and I need you to stop interrupting me." I did that recently.

Brandy:

Wow.

Jill:

I did that this year as a matter of fact.

Brandy:

Wow.

Jill:

It wasn't in my work life, it was advocating for something with my son for school. His dad and I were talking to a teacher, and the teacher kept interrupting every time I would speak, but was not interrupting when my son's father was speaking. And so I had to do that and I had to use that sentence, "I need you to stop interrupting me so I can complete what I'm going to say."

Brandy:

I'm not brave enough to say that yet, but as I go along, I'm sure I'll have to at some point.

Jill:

Brandy, it took me 20 years to do that.

Brandy:

Exactly.

Jill:

So anyone listening, if you need that sentence, use that sentence. It did work really well, and he did stop interrupting me. It does happen. Luckily, not very often, but it does.

Brandy:

Yeah, but I feel like as a woman, when you do say things like that, then you just get this bad reputation, too. Something about just women-

Jill:

...a label.

Brandy:

Exactly. And you know people think badly of us, just because we're more assertive, if you are an assertive woman, or you just speak your mind, people think you're ... You know what I'm trying to say.

Jill:

I do. I do. I do. And so you decide when to pick your battles, right?

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Yeah. When to pick your battles, "Is this particular issue a hill worth dying on?" Is a question I ask myself often. And if it is a time where you feel strongly about what you need to say and how you need to say it, and what you need to do, then your answer is yes, I'm going to move forward and I'm going to persist. So, nevertheless she persisted, right?

Brandy:

Yeah.

Jill:

And we'll be thankful to, and are thankful to all of our male counterparts who are helpful and great mentors along the way because there's plenty of those as well. At least I've been blessed with many mentors as well. So speaking of mentors, you had mentioned that you have sought some help with ASSE, and some of the people you're meeting through chapter meetings there and through LinkedIn. Any other suggestions for people who are starting out, looking for mentors, any places you haven't mentioned?

Brandy:

Well, I did mention some sister plants, but those people know what you're doing, especially if you're producing the same thing. So they know exactly what hazards you're looking at. It would definitely be good to contact them and see what they have, what they can share with you regarding, it might be a risk assessment, or it might just be a question you have about maybe a hazard you saw and you weren't sure what the regulations were but you couldn't find anything, you know?

Jill:

Yeah, that's a good tip. You said risk assessment, which makes me think about the ability to ask other safety professionals for things that they've already done, that you wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel on.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Even your lockout/tagout procedures, if someone has sort of a nice template they've developed, other safety professionals are happy to share those things with one another.

Brandy:

Yeah, definitely. Our NAHS guy at one of our sister plants, he sent me lots of forms, for inspections, and I've used them for Five Fs, and things like that. And also, last year, there was a plant nearby who had 18 years of no recordables and one of our VPs was reading about it in the newspaper and was just super intrigued because we just weren't doing well. We're under a family, not a family, a parent company, and I guess we were the worst under that parent company. So he wanted to know what these people were doing, how they didn't have any accidents-

Jill:

How did they do it?

Brandy:

We actually went there and did a tour. We were there for two days and I talked to that safety guy all the time, I ask him questions often because they are so focused on safety there, it's crazy. It's amazing. I would love to be an employee there, you know, because they're just so focused. They'll do anything to keep their employees safe, they have to have a certain number of near misses a month. Each employee has to turn in a year, three near misses or you have three near misses a month, I mean a year. Just to make sure people are looking out for things. I don't know, I just think it's really cool.

Jill:

And so you were able to do that two day visit with your plant manager?

Brandy:

Yeah, I went with a VP, our corporate safety guy, our corporate environmental guy, and then my facility manager. We all went over there and they kind of just gave us a tour, they let us take anything we wanted, they were very nice and they just said, "Here, don't re-invent the wheel, here's paperwork, if you need anything just let us know." And we got a lot of good things from them that we're using today and I think it's definitely helped having that safety guy, who is in a company where they're so safety driven. And he has just a lot of good ideas for me. Just even random things, when we did a plant tour, there was a cabinet, and there was a picture of a cabinet where everything inside was organized. It's kind of is cool because if an employee sees that, they know that an unorganized cabinet is not what it needs to be, but that picture is what it needs to be. So even things like that are so cool, and we've got a lot of good ideas from them.

Jill:

You know, I think some of us might call that corporate buy-in. The fact that your VP, that you had executives that wanted to go and learn and see that, that helps what you're trying to do if they understand what it is that you're trying to do and they've seen what good looks like and what a goal could be and then they can be more supportive of what you're doing.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly. That's exactly right. They just give us more support and kind of see the goal and what we're driving to be. I mean, we want to be like them so let's do what they're doing.

Jill:

Right, right. So what drives you to keep at this profession right now? It sounds like it's still interesting to you.

Brandy:

Yeah, it is.

Jill:

What drives you to keep at it?

Brandy:

Well, it's so interesting to me because there's so much we need to know, there's so many regulations. Like I said, I'm learning a lot, studying for my ASP. Like I said, this is a brand new facility, a lot needs to be done, and I just love improving it, improve the working conditions, even if it's just making sure that employees have the right gloves they're using. I just want to make sure that they're comfortable with their job and they're not hating it and it's because it's unsafe. I just want them to feel as safe as possible and as comfortable as possible at their job.

Jill:

One incremental improvement at a time.

Brandy:

That's exactly right, yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, we can't do it all overnight.

Brandy:

That's definitely true, yeah. And you just have to chip away it. There's a lot of things to be done and you just have to have priorities, like "What do I want to get done this week. I'm going to make a list and I'm going to give coverages and gloves to these people, I have to get brand new safety glasses to these people," things like that. Yeah, you just have to chip away it, "Add labels to this and do a risk assessment here, do a lockout/tagout procedure there," things like that.

Jill:

Yeah. So have you found a particular pivotal story so far that you kind of lean into when your work is feeling like it's really hard or maybe one that's changed how you approach your job?

Brandy:

Well, we had an accident last, no it was beginning of this year. It was actually a close friend of mine. We have a blade that rotates and blade wasn't guarded as it needed to be. She was wearing a sweater and she's an engineer, she was wearing a sweater and an operator asked her to look at something and her sweater got caught in the blade and kind of cut up her wrist a lot. But anyway, she was caught up in the machine, she was entangled in the machine and it hit me that this can happen to anyone, anything can happen to anyone, so it's important that I'm looking out for all 466 of my employees every day. Because that's someone's best friend, or that's someone's mom and you want to make sure that you're looking out for their best interests. So that kind of accident hit me hard, I really need to make sure that first, I'm mitigating the hazards that can really hurt someone, you know?

Jill:

Right. Right, right. Yeah. When it becomes personal. And I think probably we all have some of those stories as well. I have a family member right now who's just forced retirement out of his professional practice due to a work injury. And that just happened, and though I've been doing safety for over 20 years, it just took it, again, it took it again, to a different level that I didn't think I had more levels to go by way of my thoughts around safety and how it's personal to all of us, to all of us.

Brandy:

Exactly.

Jill:

So, Brandy, what are you currently working on that you're really proud of?

Brandy:

Well, I kind of talked about it earlier, but writing the lockout/tagout procedures for all the equipment, because we didn't have anything. Well, I should start over, we had a girl who was working before me, she was kind of doing safety and document control. But she was working on the lockout/tagout procedures, but she didn't get very far. She left the company. I had to go over what she was doing because it wasn't up to standard, you know what I mean? She had done something, but it wasn't enough. So I've been writing all those lockout/tagout procedures with the help of my facility manager, and like I said supervisors-

Jill:

The operators.

Brandy:

Yeah and the operators. That's a huge task that we've been working on for a year and a half now.

Jill:

Yes it is.

Brandy:

We're about 65% of the way through, because we just have so many machines and we want to make sure it's right, and then you have to get approval. It's not a quick process, that's for sure.

Jill:

Congratulations, that is huge. Some places have thousands and thousands of those. I have to say, I get contacted pretty often by people who are asking for help in that arena. And usually it's, "Do you have a format that I can follow." Because just trying to tackle, how am I going to do this and repeat it hundreds, if not thousands of times, and not miss anything, it's a big deal.

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

Good for you, congratulations. That's pretty cool. That's a giant accomplishment.

Brandy:

Yeah it is. I'm really proud of it because a lot of our machines, they're pretty in depth, so it's a lot for each procedure. We have multiple sources, so yeah, I'm pretty excited about it. I'm pretty excited that we're half way done.

Jill:

So I wanted to ask you what a normal day is like for you, with sort of a snicker with that, because I don't know that any safety people really have a normal, predictable day. What do you intend a normal day to be like, or a normal week? How do you decided how you're going to approach it?

Brandy:

Well, it kind of depends on what's going on at that time, but like you said, every day is always different. There's always something going on, something happened where someone needs my help, or whatever the case may be. Like today, I've been putting in chemical requests, like I said, new facility, we're getting a lot of new chemicals in and I have to approve those chemicals. They have to send me multiple sheets, the safety data sheet and approval form. And then I have to put it in our system. So I've been doing things like that. Figuring out how to dispose of different wastes. We have like a research laboratory, and there's wastes that people just have put under fume hoods that haven't been disposed of in probably years and no one knows what they are. Trying to figure out how to dispose of things like that.

Jill:

That's a big project.

Brandy:

Yeah, that's like a daily task. And not just stuff like that, but people will be like, "I don't know what to do with this waste, where do I put it?" Or "I have this and I don't know where it goes." And things like that.

Jill:

Have you been able to lean in to some of your biology background to be helpful with some of that, does it help inform where you might go to learn the answer?

Brandy:

Honestly, not really. I feel like I don't use my biology degree at all. Because my biology degree, I was mostly doing stuff with fish, just learning about fish, and things like that. But I did do environmental stuff and that's why I was trying to get an environmental job, but like I said, that didn't happen. So, I don't really use it at all. That's the case.

Jill:

Let's not tell your parents that you feel your college degree is wasted.

Brandy:

Yeah, but you know, for example our facility, you need a Bachelor's degree to get this position and a lot of places are like that. They don't care what you have-

Jill:

As long as you have ...

Brandy:

As long as you have experience, and they want people that can work independently and do their own thing without being told what to do. I mean, that's a big part of my day because my facility manager is so busy. He has so many things to do, he doesn't have time to babysit me, you know? So I just have to figure what's due that week, what inspections I need to do, what's due this month, who needs to be taught whatever this week, things like that. That's a big part.

Jill:

It is. So Brandy, where do you think you got that piece of yourself, that you know, you said to be able to work by yourself, to be self directed, to kind of figure out your own way without being told to do what to, where do you think that came from in you? Did you have jobs when you were growing up that maybe taught you some of those skills?

Brandy:

I don't think so. I'm just trying to think. I feel like, everything I've done has always been with a team. I played softball, that's how I got down south, I lived up north and I got recruited to play softball at a college down south, and everything's always been team, team based. I can't really think of anything that, where I really worked independently. You know, just on a day to day basis, you just need to know what needs to be done, depending on whatever's going on at that time.

Jill:

Yeah, I think that's sometimes the stereotype that your generation, or millennials, get boxed into that so much of your growing up was working essentially in teams. You didn't sit at individual desks when you were in school, you sat at tables where you worked together. And so, your generation is really collaborative, which is a huge strength for your generation. My generation on the other hand is more like, "Just tell me what to do and I'll go do it, leave me alone."

Brandy:

Yeah, exactly.

Jill:

And I've had to learn and thankfully from my millennial cohorts, the power of collaboration and working together, and it's been really fun. But you know, one of the stereotypes that goes with your generation is that you don't know how to work independently and I think that you're proving that wrong, that it is a stereotype, Brandy.

Brandy:

Yeah, I think so.

Jill:

Because you're doing it.

Brandy:

Yes, I'm doing it, and I feel like I'm doing it well.

Jill:

Good. Good for you, good for you. Do you want to share a story on best day, worst day in safety?

Brandy:

Well, a best day would be one with no injuries. Obviously you don't want to see anyone get hurt, and then all the paperwork that goes along with that, especially if it is a recordable where they need to go to the hospital or whatever. So just a day when there's no injuries, that's the best day I could ever have. And then the worst, like I said, one of my friends got hurt and whenever something like that happens, it just kind of puts in perspective that it can happen to anyone, and you just want to make your workplace as safe as possible because you don't want anyone to be hurt.

Jill:

Yeah, right. So, Brandy, kind of winding up our time together today, based on what you know right now, a few years into, you're basically less than five years into this career, right? Yeah. What do you think is the highest priority for our profession as safety professionals today?

Brandy:

I'd say the highest priority would be to find the hazards at your workplace that could cause the worst harm, so like amputation or death, and do everything you can to help minimize that risk, whether that be, trying to get the budget to get guarding on there, or trying to tell the upper management, "Hey, we really need to do something about this. This could really devastate our company, whether that be because somebody getting hurt or just morale." So I think, just trying to find the hazards that could really hurt someone.

Jill:

Yeah. Looking for those really big red flags. And do you have any specific advice that you'd like to share with people who are just starting out that might be listening today?

Brandy:

I would say that, don't be afraid to speak your mind, especially if you know what you're talking about. Do your research before you have to go to any meeting about anything safety, and like I said, I didn't go to school for being a safety person, so I'm pretty much teaching myself and I'm trying to get this certification, the Associate Safety Professional. So I'm just trying to learn everything, or I'm trying to learn everything there is to know. Just don't be afraid to just get into it and try to be the best you can be. And I think that's all.

Jill:

I think that's beautiful. Do your homework, speak your mind, and don't be afraid. Don't be afraid.

Brandy:

Exactly.

Jill:

That's wonderful. Brandy, thank you so much for spending time with us today. We really appreciate it.

Brandy:

Yeah. No, thank you. This is such a big honor. I see you on the supervisor safety talks on Vivid and I've always want to meet you and I've always looked up to you. You've taught me so much even those supervisor safety talks. So no, thank you, I appreciate it.

Jill:

Thank you, Brandy. That's humbling. Well, thank you all so much for joining in today and listening. And thank you for the work you all do to make sure your workers go home safe and healthy every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest, which might even be yourself, please contact me at social@vividlearningsytems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.