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#8: I have to tell you, those science teachers love to accumulate chemicals they shouldn’t keep.

August 22, 2018 | 51 minutes 39 seconds

For this episode, series host Jill James speaks with another friend and former OSHA investigator, Cheryl.

While working toward pre-med in college, Cheryl’s father experienced a serious occupational injury—a miraculous near-miss of sorts—that deeply affected her family, ultimately leading her to switch course of study in pursuit of a Masters in Industrial Safety. She talks about her internship at a paper mill, the reality check of running her 1st safety meeting at 22-years old, and the ‘art & science’ of effective, live safety training. You’ll learn about the lives of two young female OSHA investigators with overlapping pregnancies, how to cook a turkey, pre-natal styrene exposure limits, and the merits of ‘upward mobility by spousal pressure’.

This discussion covers Cheryl’s 10-year journey of safety leadership in the pipeline industry, where she’s writing confined-space entry programs, and is responsible for the wellbeing of thousands of employees across 12 states. Also, she talks about what it’s like to work along with 100 other safety professionals in thesame organization. And if you’re interested in high-level incident investigation and accidents with Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) potential, this episode is a goldmine.

Fun Fact: Host & Guest went through the same MA program and were taught by some of the same instructors!

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute, Episode Number Eight. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer. Today I'm joined by Cheryl, who is a safety specialist in the pipeline industry in Minnesota. Welcome to the podcast, Cheryl.

Cheryl:

Thank you. Good morning, Jill.

Jill:

Good morning, so our audience, we might want to disclose that you and I know each other, and we've known each other for quite a while.

Cheryl:

Yes, we have.

Jill:

I don't remember exactly the year, but I bet we're creeping up on somewhere around close to 20 years, Cheryl.

Cheryl:

That would be accurate.

Jill:

Cheryl and I were both investigators with OSHA a very long time ago. I started a little while before Cheryl did. Actually I made reference to you in Episode Number One as being a female colleague that I got to work with because there weren't very many of us.

Cheryl:

There were not.

Jill:

Yeah. I'm sure through our conversation today we'll get back to some of those days when we were working together in OSHA. But we'd like to start this podcast every time with asking people that central question that we named the podcast for, The Accidental Safety Pro, and inviting people to share their story of how they got into this practice by some interesting means that didn't have to do with when someone asked you when you were a little girl, "What did you want to grow up to be?" I bet you never said, "Safety Professional."

Cheryl:

No. I'm gonna share a story before I get started that when I was still with OSHA, in our days back then, I was doing an inspection at a nursing home in northern Minnesota. The director at the nursing home eventually asked me, "How did you become an OSHA inspector? Because, obviously, this wasn't your childhood dream." He said, "No child when you ask what you want to be says, 'The devil.'"

Jill:

Oh, man, what? Wow. That was bold.

Cheryl:

That was very bold. But I actually started out premed, and so I do have a biology degree. Just getting tired of school towards the end of that, I had gotten engaged my senior year of college. One thing that occurred when I was in that last year of school is my dad was involved in an industrial accident. Actually it would have been earlier than that last year. He worked as a mechanic. One day he was working on a large plow truck up on an H-frame hoist. The truck was not loaded in the back, so it allowed the big wing blade on front to shift, and the truck came down and actually my dad ended up between the bumper and the plow-

Jill:

Wow.

Cheryl:

... of the vehicle miraculously. It was one of those situations where if he hadn't moved quicker, he probably would have been cut by the plow.

Jill:

Right, by the blade. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cheryl:

Yep. Then if he had moved too quickly, he probably would have been hit by a portion of the vehicle. He sustained some damage to his knee and a broken wrist in all of this.

Jill:

That's it?

Cheryl:

That's it.

Jill:

Wow.

Cheryl:

Going through that process, though ... Workers' Compensation, my father being off of work, having to go through physical therapy ... his employer was phenomenal during this time. They worked with us. They checked on him regularly. But it made me start to think, "Okay, maybe I'm better off looking at prevention of this versus trying to deal with the aftermath." And eventually found out about, at the time, it was a master's in industrial safety through the University of Minnesota Duluth and ended up applying to that and getting into that program and going through that and haven't looked back since. I'm very happy in the field I went in and hoping that I continue to make a difference.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. You and I, we went through the same program at the University of Minnesota. I was a few years ahead of you.

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah, well, that's interesting and good news to hear that your dad's employer treated him well through the Workers' Compensation System. It goes both ways for employees.

Cheryl:

It absolutely does.

Jill:

Yeah, some employers are really great and others are not. What a luck story for your dad and interesting that this ... I don't know if we'd classify it as a near miss ... sort of changed your career projectory.

Cheryl:

It definitely changed my career projectory going through all of that. I'll never forget my mom, the panic on her face. I was not home when she received the phone call. This was pre-cellphones, so we're definitely dating ourselves there.

Jill:

Right. Landline days.

Cheryl:

I swung by the house and there was a note, "Your dad's in the hospital. Come here." I remember the dread from my mom as they were waiting for my dad to come out of surgery. My sister was there with my mother. My sister was there very quickly. My mother went into a panic that she said, "I don't even know if the house is paid for. I don't know if the vehicles are paid for. I can't tell you where anything is. What am I gonna do if he doesn't make it?" She just was in a complete panic. It's understanding that impact on that family as well. My mom was very adamant after that event because of her experience that everybody in the family needs to understand the finances. Everybody in the family needs to understand simple maintenance. Everybody in the family needs to understand where their picture is in life, and it was great advice.

Jill:

I'll say it is. Cheryl, that's a pretty loaded story. Not only did it change the impact on what you decided to pursue as a career, but based on what you described your mom's experience to be with figuring out rapidly that she needed to come up to speed with understanding family finances and everything else you just laid out, raising daughters, that must have changed your life just as a family. Did your mom and dad after that decide that you, too, were going to learn all you could about basic maintenance, like you said, and family finance, all of that?

Cheryl:

They have been huge advocates for just ensuring you're involved in everything and that you understand everything going on, because you just never know what life is going to throw at you. You need to be prepared for anything.

Jill:

Right. Boy, I couldn't agree with that more. Those were very powerful life lessons early in your life.

Cheryl:

They were.

Jill:

And served you well. You went to University of Minnesota. You earned your master's degree in industrial safety. Where did you go from there? What was that first job?

Cheryl:

The first job was an internship at Potlatch in Cloquet.

Jill:

For everybody listening, that is a paper mill.

Cheryl:

It is a paper mill. It was a very, very interesting perspective. It gave me a dose of reality number one.

Jill:

In what sort of reality?

Cheryl:

Well, you go through the master's program. Some of the courses you take, I remember a course that Bernie taught that was How to Handle a Safety Meeting.

Jill:

Yeah, and when Cheryl says Bernie, that's one of our instructors from the program who also taught us how to read the OSHA regulations. He was teaching you how to go through a safety meeting?

Cheryl:

Through a safety meeting, how to handle that. It was very professional when we did it in class and everything. I go to this first safety meeting. Here I am, what? 22-years-old, going into this paper mill with just a very colorful group of people. That first safety meeting, I came out a little bit shell-shocked, but it was so good for me to see that welcome to the real world and not everybody is polite and kind in those meetings.

Jill:

You felt a little bit blindsided by let's call it boldness?

Cheryl:

I would venture to say, too, at that age I was still quite naïve. It was a very, very good taste of reality and seeing a heavy industry. The one day we were practicing for a drill, and I was hanging up signs in the hallway. I had this gentleman come up to me and looks me over and he goes, "I bet I've been here longer than you are old." I took one look at him. I said, "Yep, probably," and I just went right back to what I was working on.

Jill:

Yeah. There was a lot of that when we first started. Right?

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

Like, "How could you possibly be an authority on anything? You're barely out of high school."

Cheryl:

Yes. Can you even drive a car?

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative). Do you remember back to that safety meeting and you said it was shocking to you, do you remember a specific comment or incident? Or were you running the meeting, too? It obviously was impactful. I'm wondering what piece?

Cheryl:

They just had me sit in it to observe. I think the two individuals working there, maybe new? I was a little bit on the naïve side. It was just people swearing at each other, just a bit of an argument or anything. It wasn't anything negative. It was just how different people get their messaging across.

Jill:

Right, right. Yeah. Well, the paper mill industry is pretty hash and/or it can be and intense from a safety perspective. What did you feel you came away from that job with by way of skill development, whether it was with people or machinery? I'm guessing it was a good learning ground for you.

Cheryl:

It was an excellent learning ground. What I primarily pulled out of that is gaining some self-confidence. Comfortable standing up for what we needed to and a pretty good understanding of machine guarding, confined space entry, and lockout/tagouts.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Those are the big ones in that industry.

Cheryl:

It was excellent exposure before going into my first job.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. Oh, so it was Potlatch, that was an internship?

Cheryl:

It was an internship. Yep.

Jill:

Got it. Got it. Yeah. Well, self-confidence, you mentioned that. I think that many young people starting out in their careers, particularly females, I know I get asked the question a lot when you're really young and starting out in this career and people maybe don't respect your opinion or your knowledge base based on your age or your gender. You say you gained confidence. What do you think it took? Was it just like a sink or swim thing? Or did you have a coach or a mentor who recommended certain things? Or how did you do that?

Cheryl:

I think for me it was just getting that exposure, getting exposed to different things and handling it with the emotional intelligence. Getting the criticism and recognizing that those individuals do have something to offer. They know this job better than I could ever do it. They understand how this equipment works, and I don't. I think it was more getting to the point of recognizing a mutual respect for each other.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah, makes sense. Makes sense. You finished your internship at Potlatch and you needed to pursue that first job. Where did you land next?

Cheryl:

I ended up doing consulting for a year for a company called IEA, whose main focus was school districts.

Jill:

Okay, another really great place to see a lot of different types of hazards, though that might sound funny to anybody listening. But school districts really do have a little bit of everything.

Cheryl:

They do because there are shops, there's chemicals. I have to tell you, those science teachers love to accumulate chemicals they shouldn't keep.

Jill:

Right. I've seen those collections.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Part of my job actually was once a year to go through and clean out the schools I worked for, to learn out their science labs. I was constantly disposing of stuff that we didn't know what it was.

Jill:

Oh, great, and so you had to learn a little bit about hazardous waste management as well?

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). You were there about a year?

Cheryl:

About a year, yep, and actually a fun job, enjoyed it, loved the clients I worked with. A great exposure there was for the first time I was introduced to having the ability to deliver training.

Jill:

Oh, okay. Yeah. Did you develop your own training and deliver it? Or how did that work in that job?

Cheryl:

It was a combination of some presentations were already developed, and some of them were custom-made for those clients.

Jill:

Okay, okay. You did some of that customization?

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Did you decide like, "I like this training thing?" You're still pretty young in your career. Were you nervous to get in front of groups? Or how did that work for you?

Cheryl:

I was nervous. I was definitely the quiet, nerdy kid in school, so I was definitely nervous about it. My first couple of times went really, really well and I started enjoying it. I started liking to have that interaction. The one thing I've always had a difficult time with is to be comfortable doing training. I feel like I really need to know the material, so it would have been helpful to have probably some more expertise in developing some of the presentations I did.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think that's true. There definitely is an art and a science to instruction and training and assuring knowledge transfer is occurring, and those are things that we didn't necessarily get taught in graduate school.

Cheryl:

Definitely.

Jill:

Right. We sort of honed those skills and figured it out hit and miss over our careers. How did you know when it was time to move on?

Cheryl:

My husband helped me along with that. The job I was in definitely didn't pay very much. He found an opening for OSHA and actually-

Jill:

Oh, really?

Cheryl:

... very much pushed me to turn in an application and resume, so I did. Got the call. Went through the interview, had to take the written test, and was hired shortly thereafter.

Jill:

I forgot that we had to take a written test when we applied for those OSHA jobs. I totally forgot about that.

Cheryl:

We did. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

I specifically, now that you've said written test, I've immediately transported myself in my memory to a conference room and where I was sitting and what I was wearing when I took that test and thinking, "Oh, my gosh. I hope I can do this."

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

I totally forgot we did that. What was the interview process like for you with OSHA.

Cheryl:

I am trying to think. I think there were three people on that interview panel. It actually felt a bit brutal if I remember right.

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative). Same for me. Same for me. Yeah.

Cheryl:

When I got out of there, I just was exhausted.

Jill:

Yeah. I remember three guys, three men, sitting across from me, two of whom would become my supervisors at different points in my career there. Their primary concern was how are you gonna be able to not get eaten alive by employers.

Cheryl:

I think that was the focus of mine, too.

Jill:

Yeah. They were really curious about that with us. I remember how I responded. Do you remember how you responded to when they asked you those kind of questions. Like, how are you gonna do this without melting?

Cheryl:

I probably mentioned something like, "When I'm upset, you'll know."

Jill:

Yeah. Sure. Actually I do know that about you. That's pretty funny. That's pretty funny. How many years were you with OSHA, Cheryl? I don't remember.

Cheryl:

Almost 10 years.

Jill:

Okay, so I was just a little over 10. You were a little under 10. Great.

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah. When Podcast Number One is where I'm sharing my story about my accidental getting into the safety profession, and I specifically mention you. I specifically mention the fact that there weren't very many women working at OSHA at the time. You and I were assigned to locations out of the metropolitan area into rural locations of Minnesota. In those particular geographic offices there were even less woman, and so you were one. There were a couple others, and so my colleague and friend, Barrett, who's interviewing me is like, "How many women did you work with?" Basically I could remember you and maybe one other person because I wasn't relating it to fact that there were other woman in our metropolitan office, because we just didn't get to work together very often.

Cheryl:

Correct.

Jill:

Yeah. Do you remember that time? Do you remember if you had female mentors with OSHA? Maybe a different recollection than I have.

Cheryl:

There really was not a lot of female mentorship at the time. There were a couple that had been there for a while. But I'm thinking of Deb and Nancy.

Jill:

Yeah. Right, right. One was our administrative assistant and, oh, I think, both of them were.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Yeah, right, Exactly. Both were our administrative assistants, and both were super-powerful in their jobs processing our reports at that time which were all on paper. You reported to an office where Deb worked, and I reported to an office where Nancy worked. I remember Nancy when I was just married and I was hosting my first Thanksgiving. I wanted to try to make a turkey, and I had never baked a turkey before. We would get mail every week from our office that we were reporting from, out of. Nancy had mailed me one of those turkey bags, those little baking bags that you put the bird in.

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

She mailed me the little bag with handwritten instructions on how to bake a turkey. I still have those handwritten instructions from her. To this day, it's how I've always made turkeys. Mentorship happened on lots of different fronts including how to deliver your first Thanksgiving turkey. Yeah. One of the things I remember about you and I working together ... We didn't get to do inspections together very often ... I remember when you were being onboarded ... Oh, you and I spent some time in the field together, and I became like your mentor, which to me was like this huge responsibility. I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. How am I gonna teach anything? I'm still young myself." It felt like a big onus on me. But the unique experience that you and I shared together was we both got pregnant around the same time.

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

With our first children.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

You and I were both reporting to the same director at that time.

Cheryl:

We were. Paul.

Jill:

Yeah. Do you remember his response when we told him we were pregnant?

Cheryl:

Oh, I'm trying to recall. Paul has passed away several years ago, and I still look up to him.

Jill:

Me, too. Me, too.

Cheryl:

But what did he say to you?

Jill:

He freaked out. He freaked out because he had never managed anyone who'd been pregnant before.

Cheryl:

I do recall that nobody knew what to do with us.

Jill:

Yeah, they didn't know what to do with us. Then you called me one day and said, "I'm pregnant, too." I'm like, "Oh, thank God. We're gonna be able to do this together." I think that we figured out through the HR Department, "It's gonna be okay, Paul. This is how we're going to do this." You and I were partners in pregnancy-

Cheryl:

Absolutely.

Jill:

... and being employed. We successfully got through that. But do you remember as an investigator being in situations in inspection settings when you were pregnant where it just turned up your own alert button for your own personal safety? Do you remember that when you were pregnant?

Cheryl:

I definitely remember that.

Jill:

Yeah. Do you remember anything specific?

Cheryl:

I remember one very specifically. It was a operation that made the plastic components for cabs for skid steers and lots of styrene exposure. I actually ended up making a referral to industrial hygiene and having them go in before I went back. Because I got a denial eventually the first time, so what I did is I made the referral and had them kind of take care of everything. Then I went back in.

Jill:

Yeah, and make sure you weren't being overexposed to styrene.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cheryl:

Yep. I remember doing a lot of research on how to make sure I was protecting that baby and what I should be doing and avoiding. It definitely changed my perspective on how I viewed the topic. I do recall doing a couple of complaints over the 10-year period where pregnant women had filed a complaint based on what do I do because the occupational exposure is okay, but what I'm looking up it says that's not a safe exposure level for a developing fetus. I could definitely empathize with those women and understand exactly where they were coming from. It was difficult sometimes.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Same. Yeah, exactly the same. It changed my view as well.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

Yeah, yeah, and probably some of the first times I heard of teratogens.

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

It resonated with me then as to what that meant. But, yeah, I remember a carbon monoxide overexposure. We always had to wear our carbon monoxide monitors when we were doing our inspections. I remember mine going off at one point when I was doing an inspection while I was pregnant. I was really scared. I was very nervous about getting not only myself out of that situation really fast, but also all of the employees, too, and clearing that area before anybody when back in. Same thing with a ... I was in a poultry barn, a chicken barn. Oh, Cheryl, help me out. What's the name of the byproduct of the manure that we're concerned about?

Cheryl:

Methane.

Jill:

Methane. Thank you. It takes your breath away particularly if it has really high property warnings. I immediately wanted to know if I was overexposed or not. You get that panic, because that's what it's intended to do. You respond to it physically. It was below the threshold limit, but I was really nervous about that. Same with noise. I remember noise was a big deal, too.

Cheryl:

Yes, yes, because we would go into some very, very loud, loud workplaces.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. Well, you know what? Thank you for walking through that together.

Cheryl:

Thank you to you.

Jill:

We learned a lot, and now we have teenagers who are teaching us all kinds of new things.

Cheryl:

Yes, they are.

Jill:

Apparently we didn't damage them in utero, so they've lived to challenge us as teens.

Cheryl:

I was gonna say, the last couple of weeks I've had some moments where I thought, "Well, maybe there was damage in utero."

Jill:

Oh, man. Teenagers, it's a ride. It's a ride.

Cheryl:

It is.

Jill:

Just about 10 years at OSHA, when did you know it was time to move on and where did you go next?

Cheryl:

Again, my husband pushed me. Everybody at the State would tell me that 10 years is the jump off point. If you don't jump off at 10 years, you're never gonna go.

Jill:

Yeah, you'll stay in government forever. Okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cheryl:

Yep, because they said the vacation gets to be where nobody will match it and things like that.

Jill:

That's true. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cheryl:

I was getting to the point that my last three years I was in the consultation unit. I could almost pre-write a report before I even went out to the site. I knew exactly what I was gonna find with what contractors. Maybe started to feel like it might be time to go and then, again, my husband pointed out, "Oh, there's this opportunity at this pipeline company. You should apply for it."

Jill:

Well, he's kind of your job coach, huh?

Cheryl:

Apparently. He also prefaced, "And it pays better."

Jill:

Upward mobility by spousal pressure. Okay.

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

Because I actually found my work at OSHA to be quite rewarding. I will definitely say this to anybody starting out in the safety profession, what an incredible training ground. You will not get better training than what you will see working for the OSHA program.

Jill:

Yeah, agreed. Agreed. It just gives you so much exposures to so many types of employment settings.

Cheryl:

It does and good access to training programs at the OSHA Training Institute. We had some incredible mentors that had been doing it for 20 plus years, 30 years-

Jill:

We sure did.

Cheryl:

... that provided us such good direction. It was an incredible opportunity.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). It really was.

Cheryl:

Yep. I feel like it definitely prepared me for going into my current challenge of pipeline industry.

Jill:

Yeah. What's that like?

Cheryl:

There are definitely some unique challenges to the pipeline industry. One thing, though, I do have to say about my current employer is safety is definitely a number one priority. Watching this path they've gone on over the last 10 years, the incredible things that they've implemented and improved on. I would say when I started it definitely needed some work. But the journey's been incredible in the stuff that they've implemented and developed over the years, it's been a true joy to watch all these improvements.

Jill:

You got to be on the tip of that spear it sounds like, Cheryl.

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, so what's a big win? What was something that you're really proud of that you've been able to accomplish there?

Cheryl:

For me that relationship-building with the individuals that work out on the pipeline itself, I think, has been my biggest accomplishment. I truly care for these individuals that are out there. They're incredible, phenomenal people and wanting to support them by ... My new goal is writing a program that definitely meets regulatory, protects individuals, but is realistic out in the field and that they can understand and that they can implement and that it's feasible and reasonable.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's it. That's nirvana in safety. That's it. Yeah. You're working on that now. Have you succeeded in some areas with that?

Cheryl:

We'll find out. I just revamped our confined space program.

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

We're taking bets as to I think I'm gonna set a record for the most amount of comments ever received on a program, so.

Jill:

Is that good?

Cheryl:

I look at it as a positive, because to me that means you actually read what I wrote.

Jill:

Exactly. Yeah. Good point. Good point. Good point. Pipeline industry is a big industry. Do you cover both general industry laws and construction in your current role?

Cheryl:

I do cover both, but my primary focus is on general industry.

Jill:

Okay, okay. Since the company you work for is rather large, is there like a specific geographic region that you are responsible for in your role or a number of employees? Or how does that work out?

Cheryl:

I am assigned to be a specialist for the US.

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Cheryl:

I have a very large geographical area. Right now my focus is on 12 states and several thousand employees. I don't know the exact number. I should probably figure that out one day. But my focus is mostly within those 12 states in the US.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Are you traveling as well?

Cheryl:

I do travel for my occupation. However, it used to be excessive, but it's slowed down over the years as my role has become more specialized.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so what does that specialization look like? What are you specialized in right now?

Cheryl:

What they have me performing is I do number one high level incident investigation.

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

We have a program where for every incident that occurs, you have to look at what the actual impact was as well as the potential. I get involved in high potential or high actual impact events and will serve as the lead investigator. Or I will assist as a rep cause analysis expert for those areas to help us really dig deep into that.

Jill:

Yeah, so does that usually involve a team?

Cheryl:

It does involve a team.

Jill:

Yeah, so how many of you are on that and are you the only safety person? Or is there more than one on a team?

Cheryl:

It varies depending on the incident.

Jill:

Sure.

Cheryl:

I just completed a high potential incident with just one other safety person this last week. But typically it involves a team of about three to five, and usually it's just one safety person.

Jill:

Sure, sure. Professionally, that sounds really interesting. Is it a fun challenge for you? When we say fun in safety and you're talking about high potential incidents, that's not to disrespect to that something potentially terrible could have or did happen. But also as practitioners in this field, these are interesting times for us to be able to work, to do our jobs, too. Right?

Cheryl:

Absolutely and I can give a great example of that. Not last winter, the winter before, we managed to put a skid steer through the ice on our right of way. We were in a swamp and ended up that there was just like a small pothole that was 12-feet deep. The operator felt the backend of the piece of equipment go down, realized that there's a situation there. Exited the vehicle. Let him know that, "Hey, I think the piece might go through the ice. We need to deal with this." They tried to rig it and get it out. But their attempts failed, and it ended up going through the ice. This was looked at as a fatality potential incident.

Jill:

Yeah, sure.

Cheryl:

Therefore, that got me involved in the investigation. My comment, because the contractor that we were dealing with upper management, was, "I look at those type of incidents as this is the perfect opportunity for us to really take a good look at ourselves without any consequent." So, what did this cost? It costs us several hours of lost time. It actually didn't damage the equipment.

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Cheryl:

It didn't release anything into the water. They were able to tow it out, clean off equipment. It didn't even dent it because it landed in muck. I look that as what an incredible opportunity for us as a company to really, really look at how we're doing things and make genuine improvements with very, very low consequence involved. There won't be lawsuits from this. There isn't anything to fix. There's no damaged equipment. Nobody got hurt. Yet we were able to identify problems in communication, consistent flagging procedures. We were able to identify how do you transfer tribal knowledge issues? Just all sorts of things. How do you manage change? That was a huge one on this and that operators had changed, and the communication didn't get there. How do you manage change? It ended up being a truly incredible experience and identifying some pretty major flaws without having anybody hurt, injured, or anything damaged.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). What a great opportunity. It sounds like a win on your side. I'm curious to know from the 10 years you've been in the pipeline industry now and where it was and where it is now. When it comes to incident investigation, sometimes that's something that you don't get a chance to do, because you have so many fires every day of things that with really great impact that have happened. You're doing accident investigations not incident investigations. Or you're just trying to get to compliance in some area, and you don't get to have this opportunity that you're having with investigating incidents to be able to be more prescriptive on how you can prevent things in the future. I'm guessing you didn't start out that way when you started your job in the pipeline industry. How long did that evolution take where they were actually able to start looking at incidents versus reacting to things?

Cheryl:

Well, we definitely still have days where we're just reacting to things.

Jill:

Of course. That's the reality of our job. Yeah.

Cheryl:

We're actually working currently with an individual whose name is Dr. Matt Hallowell out of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

Several companies have come together to help finance this research. He's doing a lot of research around that SIFT Potential, Serious Injury Fatality Potential, and how we're trying to focus resources on that they say that's around a 21% of all your incidents. The company's vision moving forward has definitely been that if something falls into that SIFT Potential range, we have to focus a good amount of resources on this and get to the bottom of this. We've had a shift, which I think has been much to the good of the company, in that things like deer strikes. They used to do full investigations on them. We're starting to streamline those investigations a little more, instead of spending all this time that a deer ran into the side of the truck. We've already identified any potential for how to improve this, implemented defensive driving programs, implemented awareness campaigns, all of those things. That we're not gonna get much more value out of spending a lot of time and resources on this. Let's spend our time and resources on these things that carry that SIFT Potential, that high potential to have caused injury, whether or not it damaged things, and do a really good job investigating these. We're also working with Dr. Hallowell on a new way of identifying hazards and an energy wheel concept.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay.

Cheryl:

I see very huge wins coming out of this.

Jill:

With your partnership with Dr. Hallowell and that sounds fascinating and kudos to your company for being on the forefront of that kind of work and effort. With the science, are you able to come up with some actual ROI to go along with those things to help propel change when you need to use it as a leverage point?

Cheryl:

That is a great question because sometimes supporting that return of investment is very difficult to do.

Jill:

Yeah, and safety it's very hard if not impossible, so that's why I'm asking the question.

Cheryl:

Well, we asked Dr. Hallowell that question in one of our training sessions when he was doing Train the Trainer sessions we said, "Will we see evidence this gonna reduce our injuries?" He said, "No."

Jill:

Oh, okay.

Cheryl:

I remember just being taken back like, "What?" His comment was, and it's very accurate, "No, because everybody perceives risk differently, and I can't control how that person perceives risk and chooses to move forward with their activity."

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

"My job," he said, "is to improve hazard identification, but it's up to that person to make the right decision on how to manage that hazard." That's definitely a struggle we're still working on is everybody has a different tolerance level for risk.

Jill:

Right, right. That's very true. Have you trained people enough? Have you given them enough context so that when no one is looking, they're making the choice that you hope and want them to make?

Cheryl:

Well, I think of when my son, MJ, we recently purchased him a vehicle. But when we were going through the process of purchasing a vehicle for him, he presented to me the one day he's like, "Mom, I love this car. Can I please have this car?" It was a red Toyota Celica GT Turbo.

Jill:

I already know the answer to this. No.

Cheryl:

I'm like, "Okay," because somebody's perception of risk is different than his mother's. His mother's perception of risk is, "You're getting a Volvo."

Jill:

Right.

Cheryl:

My son's perception of risk is, "No, no, no. This is good. This is good. Get me a fast, little, two-door sports car, Mom. Come on. What's the issue here? I don't understand why you don't think this is the perfect car. It's in the price range."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, point taken. You used Dr. Hallowell's words, and I'm guessing you did not get that car.

Cheryl:

He did not get that vehicle. No.

Jill:

I would have made the same choice. You had mentioned earlier that you're responsible for 12 states right now. What have you found? Has there been differences in how you approach people in different parts of the country or region? Do you change up the way you interact with people? Or what have you learned about that?

Cheryl:

I would say I do definitely change up, not a lot, a little bit of how I interact. Definitely a mix of different backgrounds, experiences that I deal with. Cultural, lots of differences there. For example, the Southern hospitality when I go down to Oklahoma, getting called ma'am. That to them that's being respectful. Up here when I called ma'am in Minnesota I just go grrr.

Jill:

It makes you feel old. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cheryl:

It does, but down there I understand that's them being extremely respectful for me. It's all about trying to understand and try to see from that other person's perspective and what's important to them.

Jill:

Yeah, putting yourself in their shoes.

Cheryl:

Yes, absolutely. I have to say, everybody I've worked with for the most part has been very respectful, very cooperative. When they do disagree, they've handled it in a very professional manner.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Cheryl, when you were talking earlier about the incident investigations and talking about different safety people that might be on the team with you. What does the safety structure look like in your company now? Because it sounds like you're not a solo operator, which is also something rare in our professional practice. What does the safety department look like? Or how's it made up?

Cheryl:

Okay. We have a very large safety department. It's well over a hundred people.

Jill:

Wow.

Cheryl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). We have individuals that are designated just to do training. Individuals designated to work on our integrated management system. Individuals dedicated to improving safety culture. In the US we are a smaller group, and we are divided up into regions. Each region has two to three individuals that work on the day-to-day items in there, and they report up to a supervisor. Then that supervisor reports up to the manager. We have an industrial hygienist in our group in the US. Then I am in this very unique, oddball role of this sole specialist in the US for our operating unit.

Jill:

Yeah, sure. Department-wise, you're obviously a safety department. You said you report up from there. Is it an operations department that you report up to, or what is that?

Cheryl:

I'm in our operations division.

Jill:

Okay.

Cheryl:

We also have a projects division, so I reside in operations, which means that my responsibility and accountability is for the day-to-day operation of the pipe itself. I don't get involved in the building of pipe. I don't get involved in upgrades, anything like that. I'm strictly involved in the day-to-day how the pipe operates and how to protect not only the individuals working on it but the public as well.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. Everyone listening who is a solo operator who gets to hear that there's someone with a 100-person safety department and regional people that are your cohorts just got really jealous.

Cheryl:

I'm sorry. I don't mean to ...

Jill:

The other thing they're probably thinking is, "I bet they have a budget, and I don't."

Cheryl:

We do have a budget as well. Yeah. For those individuals, everything we do adds value, so it's just making that prioritization.

Jill:

Yeah. Wow.

Cheryl:

You can only do what you can do.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). You have people. You have a budget. When you need to make a request for something that's particularly a monetary thing, is there a process? Because you are-

Cheryl:

There is a process in place.

Jill:

Yeah?

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

Okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative). You don't have to necessarily get creative, but you follow the process, and?

Cheryl:

Sometimes you have to get creative, too.

Jill:

You get creative, sure. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Cheryl:

But usually the company puts a high emphasis on safety. If you can justify regulatory-wise, for example, why something is important, they don't bat an eye. If it's regulatory-driven, they will typically support that and move forward with whatever the recommendation is.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. Wonderful. Sounds like a great place to have landed, Cheryl. Sounds like a challenging and fun career, too.

Cheryl:

Yep. Not to necessarily go back on this topic, but I do definitely want to encourage more women going into this field. In my work group, there's only two of us that are female.

Jill:

Oh, wow.

Cheryl:

I definitely want to encourage listeners out there that this is an incredible field for women to go into and just diversity adds so much to this profession. Trying to encourage that, go into the sciences, practice that diversity, go into this field. It's a wonderful, very, very rewarding field that you can make a very good living on.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And an impact.

Cheryl:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, and an impact. Yeah. You're interesting to hear. Thank you for sharing that about how many women are in your particular unit. I think our practice has always been low on female involvement. But it's changing and it's growing. We're not there yet, but it's getting better. I often use the anecdote about how you go to a safety conference and the line to the female's bathroom is always shorter than the men's-

Cheryl:

Yes, it is.

Jill:

... because there's so few of us. I don't remember if I shared this in a previous podcast or not. But I had an opportunity to keynote this year's Future Safety Leaders Conference for the American Society of Safety Professionals in Chicago.

Cheryl:

That's incredible.

Jill:

Yeah, it really was. It was quite an honor to be asked. The topic of my keynote was 10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Out in Safety. I took about, maybe, one to two minutes of that time to address the women in the audience specifically. This is students from all over the country and in safety programs, undergrad and graduate safety program. It's a big ballroom in a hotel. When I get to this part, when I want to speak to the women specifically, I asked all the women to stand. I was not on the podium, because I'm not that kind of speaker. I was standing among the tables of all the people. This whole forest of women stood up around me, and it was crazy. I was taken aback because I couldn't believe there were that many women in the audience, because it's so rare for us. This is the future and I thought, "Wow." They literally took my breath away while I was in the midst of my keynote. I'm like, "Holy cow. I didn't expect to see this many of you here." You know?

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

It was pretty cool, so I see the tides are changing for our practice. It's a STEM-related field, and it's important that we're half the human existence and so why not be represented? Right? And step into that practice.

Cheryl:

Yep, so I definitely encourage. I look at diversity in any field is of incredible value, getting different cultural, having females involved as well as males. It so much adds to a company to have those varying viewpoints. I'm excited to hear that. I think that's great news, and I hope that trend continues.

Jill:

I hope so, too. I hope so, too. It was really a great experience. Something else that I know you've pursued. I'm wondering maybe you can talk a little bit about what that journey was like was you earned your CSP a while a go. I remember you studying for the test.

Cheryl:

Yep.

Jill:

If someone's thinking about doing that process now, maybe talk about what that was like for you. How long did it take? How did you figure out when and how to study?

Cheryl:

Sure.

Jill:

Have you found value in it?

Cheryl:

I have found value in it from the standpoint that employers do like to ... It carries some weighting on a resume and things like that. The value that I got out of it was during the studying process, I was definitely looking into items that I had not exposure to. For example, radiation is a good one that actually there's potentially calculations on radiation and shielding and having an understanding of that, that I'm thinking, "I'll never use this. When will I ever need this?" Wow, years later, I'm Radiation Safety Officer just a few years ago. I think where it's of value is getting exposure to things that may not be in your comfort zone and some strong mathematical background as well as the safety management portion. Same thing when I was younger. I was frustrated because the ASP is real heavy on math and things like that. Then the CSP was more management concepts. I kept thinking, "Wow, why is it so focused on this?" Well, then a few years later, I'm the Supervisor of Safety for the US and wow. It's a good thing I understood some of that stuff and looked at some of that stuff. I definitely would say you may not look at it as of value now, but everything you learn, eventually you will be utilizing.

Jill:

Yeah. The pursuit of the ASP and CSP was like training for you essentially? The studying?

Cheryl:

It was.

Jill:

Yeah, that's excellent. I have not heard anyone frame it that way. That makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. That's cool. That's cool. Cheryl, as we're starting to wrap up our time together today, I'm wondering maybe we can end with you answering this question. What keeps you at this? All these years later, what drives you to get out of bed and keep at this every day?

Cheryl:

What still drive me is that, again, I feel like I add value every day to what this company is doing. If I can make a slight difference that saves one life or causes one person not to go through the pain and suffering that my father had to go through and the amount of stress that that put on my family, everything I do is worth it.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Beautiful. Beautiful way to wrap it up. Couldn't agree more. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Cheryl:

Thank you.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you all so much for joining in and listening today. Thank you for the work that you all do to make sure your workers make it home safe at the end of each 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, including even if it's you, please contact me at Social@VividLearningSystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.