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NSC Live: “I always tell people it’s a sales job. You’re really essentially a salesman.”

October 26, 2018 | 17 minutes 52 seconds

Jill James, Chief Safety Officer and show host, talks with Justin, a VP of Safety, with an oil and gas company in Texas–live from the Expo floor of the NSC Congress.

Transcript

Jill:

Welcome to the Accidental Safety Pro podcast, I'm Jill James, your podcast host. And I am today at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo, here live on the expo floor. And with me today, my next podcast guest is Justin in the Oil and Gas industry here in Texas, specifically with wildcast tools. Justin, thank you for being on the podcast.

Justin:

Thanks for having me.

Jill:

This is so fun. So, Oil and Gas industry, it's probably not where you started in safety I'm guessing?

Justin:

It is actually.

Jill:

It is?

Justin:

Yeah.

Jill:

Okay. So, we'd love to hear your story of how you accidentally came into this practice.

Justin:

Sure.

Jill:

What does it look like for you? And how long has it been?

Justin:

I've been in the profession around 20 years, a little over 20 years. Started in Midland, Texas. I don't know if anybody knows where that is, that listens, but Far West Texas, it's oil and gas country. So everyone out there is in oil and gas. My Dad owned a service business that did service, provide service work for oil and gas companies. And growing up, watched that my whole life and then went to work for him and my job, several jobs. But 20 years ago safety was ... here's a video, watch that and take this test and don't put your hand there kind of a thing-

Jill:

Yeah, don't touch.

Justin:

And ... Yeah. And so really for me it was just doing that and the record keeping aspects of it for his company as well as running a team that would do like instrumentation diagrams and those types of things. So it was safety and also ... and then from there it just kept going at a friend of mine that started a Safety and Training business and hired me to go get work and also train. And I deviated away from the go-get-work side of it, more to learning and training-

Jill:

About safety.

Justin:

... then end up where we are now, building complete programs and those type of things.

Jill:

So, when you're working with your dad's company, way back. So you literally grew up in the oil and gas industry?

Justin:

Absolutely.

Jill:

Yeah. That's wonderful. So school and education, what happened with that? Which, which way did that take you?

Justin:

So, interestingly enough, I went to ... graduated high school, went to Texas Tech, I was there for a period of time and then my dad's company was doing great things and he'd asked if I could come back and help him with a few things and the understanding was I would always go back and then I never went back. But I was really fortunate in that I had a lot of people that would supplement that lack of college degree with a specific training, relevant for what you're working in or ... and I was always, want to seek out those types of opportunities also. So was able to overcome any perceived deficiency as a result of not having a degree.

Jill:

Yeah. Not an uncommon situation with safety professionals. I mean, your experience is very similar to many. So often I'm asked, profile a safety person for me, like what do they have in common? Where did they go to school? What's their education... there isn't.

Justin:

Right.

Jill:

There really isn't a single profile. We all came into it by some accident. And we learned that the craft, in various ways from various people, which is really the beauty of this, correct?

Justin:

Yeah. I will say we learn the moves.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly.

Justin:

Learn, learn what to do, what not to do and all that trial and error mostly.

Jill:

So what's a normal day look like for you now in this industry?

Justin:

Well, in this industry now, a normal day for me is, when I started it was, "Hey, today I have 30 fire extinguishers I've got to fill." And they're in the most remote locations you can imagine. Good luck finding them. To what I'm doing today is, "Hey, where are we going in 2019 and 2020 and beyond as a company." And then from a corporate perspective, "Where do we look to expand?" We're looking at international, we're looking offshore as well, and doing all of those things and then preparing our culture first and then the programs to support that culture second is how I generally tackle each day.

Jill:

And so how are you tackling culture? I mean, that's in the mind's eye of all safety professionals right now and everybody's coming at it at different ways. What's working for you?

Justin:

So I was very fortunate with that because when the company grew, it grew by bringing together most of our management structure from major oil companies. So they brought a certain culture with them that they'd always done a certain way. So let's take observation cards for example, if I say, "Okay, we're going to do observations." They say, "Oh, finally." And it just starts out-

Jill:

And they already knew?-

Justin:

... Yeah. They know what to do, why it's important. They've seen it be beneficial where they were before. So it's not so much of an uphill battle. And because of that, then I don't really have to push on the front line guys as much, because their management structure supports it already.

Jill:

Yeah. You don't have to do all that.

Justin:

Right.

Jill:

Yeah.

Justin:

Now that's not always been the case. And it's ... always tell people it's a sales job. You're really essentially a salesman.

Jill:

I'd say that very often.

Justin:

You're just, you're not selling a product, you're selling a concept-

Jill:

A concept, that's right-

Justin:

Or an idea. And-

Jill:

A way to be-

Justin:

... and I've got to convince a mechanic that's probably been doing it that way. His perception is longer than I've been alive and tell him that, "Hey, I've got a better way to do that thing I've never done before and I need you to listen to me about it." And so that's 100% sales.

Jill:

It is 100% sales and it's also building street cred with the people that you're working with. I often ask people, what's the craziest thing you've done to build street cred that ... we got home at night and never thought I would.

Justin:

[inaudible 00:05:58] Is it just unlimited to one answer?

Jill:

No. Absolutely not.

Justin:

The thing that jumps to mind the most is probably climbing to the top of a derrick, 100 plus feet in the air with a ... all the proper fall protection and stuff on my ... getting comfortable trying to look comfortable doing that when you just not that comfortable doing that-

Jill:

Yeah, this is your everyday thing.

Justin:

In order to drive that point home, you have to show them you're willing to do it and that you trust the equipment that you're asking them to trust and-

Jill:

And using the methods that-

Justin:

Correct-

Jill:

... might, you might get a push back on that. It's a [inaudible 00:06:40]

Justin:

That's right. And showing them that, hey, you can use this. And at the same time going, man, I really hope this stuff works. I hope this is good.

Jill:

I know. Heights have always gotten me.

Justin:

Yeah, heights or something. Heights or something.

Jill:

I can do it, but I don't like it.

Justin:

Yeah. It's like a ... Heights, I've gotten more comfortable with obviously, but electricity is that way for me. I get it enough that I don't want to mess with it.

Jill:

I was in a sugar beet processing plant a week ago, multiple stories with the expanded metal, flooring where you can see all the way down. I trained myself many years ago to have a focal point B, some sort of horizon line. So I'm not looking ahead of, where I'm walking far enough ahead not to trip on anything, but I want to eliminate that whole falling thing.

Justin:

Yeah. The great floors, those are-

Jill:

Yeah.

Justin:

They'll mess with you. They'll mess with your head.

Jill:

So that's a pretty big climb. I bet that felt like a great workout [crosstalk 00:07:35] to the top-

Justin:

But it's a good workout. I've done it, climbing it and also being hoisted up by a mechanical line. So a couple of different things.

Jill:

Wow.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jill:

Wow. Have you ever ridden a man lift?

Justin:

Yeah, for sure.

Jill:

Me too.

Justin:

I've driven manlifts.

Jill:

The endless belt manlifts that you have to jump on and it takes you past a [inaudible 00:07:56]?

Justin:

That's a different thing. So what you're calling a manlift is different from what we call a manlift.

Jill:

Oh, you call manlift ... You're talking about a mechanical device?

Justin:

Yeah I'm talking like a scissor lift or something like that.

Jill:

Yes. I was thinking about-

Justin:

No, I'm not ever ridden one of those.

Jill:

Yeah, I was thinking about heights and what you do for street credit. I had to when I ... because with OSHA I ride, one of these things called an endless belt man lift to the top of a grain elevator, highest structure in the community and I'm looking at this thing. I'm like, "I know there's a regulation on it, there's not much safety stuff on it." And I got to get to the roof to respond to the accident I was investigating. And the team that was with me, I'm like, "I'm sending a couple of people at first to make sure that if they make it." And then instructed them to pull me off of it physically because you have to step backwards over the shoot and so they said you're coming through, you're coming through. I'm like, "Hold me up." They hold me up. And I'm trying to collect yourself as a professional to do your job and not lose your credibility-

Justin:

And act like you weren't scared of that at all.

Jill:

Exactly. I got home and broke out in hives.

Justin:

Oh no.

Jill:

Head to toe for six weeks, I had hives-

Justin:

Stress-related hives?-

Jill:

I thought it was because I was so scared. My dermatologist said I was allergic to grain dust, but I'll still say it was because I was scared-

Justin:

It could be both-

Jill:

But they didn't see me sweat.

Justin:

Oh Man.

Jill:

These are the crazy things we do in our industry.

Justin:

Yeah, we you have to.

Jill:

Yeah.

Justin:

Especially when you going back to the culture piece. If you don't recognize that you're going to really struggle to develop any type of rapport with the people that you're trying to influence-

Jill:

Right.

Justin:

And you won't be able to be successful.

Jill:

Yeah. How do you work as a safety professional? Like you had mentioned some people that have a good idea, like how would ... when they bring ideas to you or how do you get them to bring ideas to you so it's not because the people that work closest to things often have the best solution. Yeah.

Justin:

So my constant message to anyone I ever talk to, I'll end most conversations with, "Let me know how I can help." But generally speaking I just am constantly on message about, I'm an internal consultant for you. I'm an internal consultant for you. I work as a consultant for you. These tools are for you. We can do safety a couple of different ways. I can hire coordinators and put them all over the country if you want. That will make us any safer and you guys won't own the process, or I can build tools. And so that's ... I just stay on message with that, that this is for you. I'm building these for you. If they work, let's talk about what's working and magnify that and if they aren't working, let's talk about what's not working and make those changes. So it's just, for me, it's just staying on message and-

Jill:

Being an internal advocate. [crosstalk 00:10:34] Is that what you said? That's the frame-

Justin:

Internal consultant.

Jill:

Internal consultant.

Justin:

Right.

Jill:

Yeah, that's good. That's good. Internal consultant people can [crosstalk 00:10:38].

Justin:

They can stay on message though.

Jill:

Yeah right. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. What do you find to be the biggest challenge for our practice right now?

Justin:

I think that ... so going back to something I said earlier where you have the beginning, my beginning career and safety was, here's a video and here's the test. And then make sure your records are in order. So if you get reviewed by OSHA or whomever you're in order, to then a real focus on behavioral things and your why-is behavior a certain way. And then now a shift. I've noticed more into a reduction in an HSE staff in lieu of management owning it, which is I think absolutely the direction you should go. I don't have a large safety staff by design because I always say if I ... if you have a safety guy, safety guys going to safety guy. You're going to let him do safety meetings. You're going to let him do facility inspections. You're gonna let him do all those things-

Jill:

Rather than teaching people different-

Justin:

Rather than either you do them, which, if I'm a manager and I've got to do a safety inspection on my facility, and the first one I find 100 things, the next time I might not want to find 100 things.

Jill:

Exactly, because it's a lot of work.

Justin:

It's a lot of work and so it's shifting more into that and I think that is awesome. But I think to answer your question about the challenge is, I came up in safety like I would suspect you did. Like I said, today I have 30 fire extinguishers to fill. And then you learn that and then you learn some regulation and then you learn how to teach. And then you learn how to ... on and on and on, and then 20 years down the road you're like, "Okay, I get it. I've worked for some major companies. I've worked for some startup sized companies. I understand somewhere in between is where we need to fall."

I think in the future, given the aspect that you're phasing out that coordinator type role, or at least in my estimation, you're going to lose some of that on the job type training where people spend a good amount of time seeing a bunch of different, being exposed to a bunch of different things and they're going to end up ... You're going to end up ... One or two things. You're going to get the guy that got hurt and gets to be safety guy now, or you're going to get the fresh faced kids straight out of college that's never seen anything at all in the real world. And-

Jill:

And they need to.

Justin:

And they need to, I mean-

Jill:

And that's where mentoring I think comes along with you and I have been at this for a while to try to bring some of those new leaders by mentoring and I never really thought of myself as a mentor until maybe a couple of years ago because we've been at this a while now. And I think I have to be ... when people are asking me for help, I need to really pay attention to that.

Justin:

Pay attention to enter your answer.

Jill:

Yeah right? That too ... I'm I qualified to do this? We're all going to ... Yeah anyway. But it's been funda. It's been fundamental. But I also think it's the responsibility of our practice right now.

Justin:

I agree.

Jill:

it's to mentor the next generation.

Justin:

I don't disagree. I think that anyway we can get that message out, it's great.

Jill:

Yeah. So, you've been at this for, you said 20 about years or something-

Justin:

20 years yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Me too. Are there accomplishments that you're particularly proud of? Something that sticks in your head as a win, a good day?

Justin:

Yeah, several. I was able to build a High Angle Rescue program for Derek workers at a company I worked for. Trained over 800 employees. And how do you get a guy that's fallen and now he's suspended below a certain working surface. Built a ... I was able to, same company build a well control program. So how do you control? Well, it's out of control. That ended up getting American Petroleum Institute accredited, which was a lot of fun.

Jill:

Congratulations.

Justin:

Thank you.

Jill:

That's huge.

Justin:

Yeah, those are all great and they're things that you can really kind of hang your hat on and say, "Man, that was fun to do." I've been over overseeing the Voluntary Protection Program efforts for multiple facilities that all received star status. So-

Jill:

Again, congratulations. That's fabulous.

Justin:

Yeah, all that stuff's great. And then at the end of the day, that's as rewarding as when you get a dwight, the welder to put a guard on his grinder. How do you quantify one against the other?-

Jill:

You don't.

Justin:

I don't think you can. Yeah.

Jill:

You don't. What gets you out of bed to keep at this?

Justin:

I just really enjoyed doing it. I don't know if that makes me a sadist or ... I don't know what that makes me, but I do enjoy just coming to work and knowing that what we do ultimately you're doing for almost a higher purpose. And even though sometimes that gets lost on me, I get bogged down a lot of times and that, I can't believe that guy did that. You know that concept?

Jill:

Yes.

Justin:

But at the end of the day-

Jill:

You take ... You get yourself out of that pretty quickly. Yeah.

Justin:

You have to or you'll just have to find something else to do. But for me, it's just knowing that what you're doing is really making a difference in someone's life.

Jill:

Yeah. I sometimes think about it as really impacting heart and soul of working America. We're all laying our hands on this ark and we're changing. We're changing in one little bit at a time. Yeah. So what brought you to the conference?

Justin:

I live here in Houston and when I saw the conference was here, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to come out, see some of the newer technologies that are out there, taking some sessions which I have done, which they've been great. And more than anything, wildcat the company I work for, we're in growth mode. So I know that we're a 200-person company now and we're looking to add locations and people. So for me, when I look at that, I'm like, "Okay, we need something, we need processes in place that are scalable." And so to come speak to vendors such as yourself, that ... How do we look at training, how do we look at SDS, how do we look at all of those types of things and grow those things.

Jill:

Yeah, because you're one human being and you can't do all of that-

Justin:

Right. So how do we find the ... how do we find partnerships and more importantly, the proper partnerships to then ... so you can almost set that on autopilot and focus on-

Jill:

The people.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jill:

And the culture-

Justin:

Absolutely.

Jill:

And the things that make the biggest difference. So you know how people are going to perform when no one's looking.

Justin:

That's exactly right. There's some really cool stuff here. I've seen that you're like, oh, that's awesome, and I don't think it's a fit but it's really cool. It's interesting.

Jill:

Yeah, a lot of new stuff. A lot of new technology. Yeah, I love it myself. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.

Justin:

Happy to do it. Thank you for having me.

Jill:

Yeah, really appreciate it. I want to hear your story.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jill:

Thank you for joining me.

Justin:

Thank you.

Jill:

And thank you to everyone who's listening to the Accidental Safety Pro podcast. If you'd like to listen to more of our episodes, you can find us in the podcast clear of your choosing. And if you'd like to send us a question or a comment, you can reach out to us at social at vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thank you.