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NSC Live: “I think this would be a great way for us to fund steel toe boots.”

October 23, 2018 | 21 minutes 15 seconds

Russell, a electrical safety pro from Texas, joins us live on the floor of the NSC to talk with our Chief Safety Officer and host Jill James.

Transcript

Jill:

Welcome to the National Safety Council Congress and Expo. I'm Jill James with the Accidental Safety Pro, and we are doing a special edition of our safety pro podcast here at the expo. My guest today for the podcast is Russell with Review Electrical Utilities Cooperative out of East Texas. Russell, thanks for being with us.

Russell:

Thank you.

Jill:

So the podcast is about how people accidentally became safety professionals and I hear you have a pretty interesting story of how you came about this accidentally. So can you set us up? What kind of job were you in?

Russell:

For the previous 10 years, I was in oil and gas. We ended up having layoffs and I got caught up in that. Went by a few months of just looking and kind of sitting around the house, not doing much. And then a utility called and asked, well, they didn't ask but they had mentioned that they were looking at a new position and asked if I would be interested. Over the next four or five months of conversation, I ended up going on with the utility as their director of operations and maintenance. Six months later, after being in the position that I'm in now, our safety coordinator, he quit and we didn't quite know what you're actually wanting to go in. So I came to work one day and my boss had slid me a new box of business cards and the title on the card said, "Director of Operations, Maintenance and Safety." And so that's how I got into safety and I'm still there trying to figure this thing out.

Jill:

So did you go to your boss and say, "Is this a misprint?" Or, "Why is this on the card?"

Russell:

We did have several conversations after that to kind of figure out what in the world do you want me to do? I've initiated safety programs before, but I am not a trained safety professional. It's not what I went to school for.

Jill:

Many people aren't.

Russell:

But here I am.

Jill:

Here you are. So it's all of a sudden one day on your business card, you're sitting in your office looking at your card going, "Oh man, now what?" So what was your first thing? Did you think I have to teach myself this or how did you like execute on a plan?

Russell:

Well, we kind of went through, my boss and I, went through on some areas that the co-op needed to get better at. We had just faced a couple of legal issues in terms of car accidents. They weren't bad, but one of the first things I did was set us up, every field driver that we have with some driver training. And so I got us to school with that. We got set up with an active shooter training, for the co-op because we also thought it would be needed for the entire co-op, whether you're in the field or in the offices if there was some kind of emergency, whether it's a fire, tornado, active shooter. We decided to kick it off active shooter simply because there was a burglary across the street.

Jill:

So it was top of mind.

Russell:

It was top of mind, that's right. And so I did that. We have a safety committee that really didn't know what direction we needed to go in, and so I started sitting in with that and the next thing you know we're here.

Jill:

Wow. You did some really instinctual safety things. You were triaging your situation and kind of you picked the things that were really sort of arterial bleeds at the time and decided to attack that first. That was genius. That was perfect. What a great way to do it. And I'm really happy to hear you say that you see active shooter as part of emergency response because it really is. It has a seat at the table, and a lot of safety professionals haven't necessarily always embraced that. It's like what do we do with it? Where does it fit? But it really does fit in traditional safety programming. Same as it would be for fire or a gas release or a tornado or some other natural event. Yeah, that's great. That's great. So when you were trying to figure out how I'm going to do this safety job, that you already had a pretty rich history in the industry with oil and gas and aviation and the cooperative, did you lean into some of that expertise is you're trying to figure out safety too?

Russell:

I did take a lot of what I had learned in the oil and gas industry and things that we had done there because we had drivers safety training also. We have, a lot of my guys, in oil and gas and warehouse in the field, so we'd looked at training for what you're going to do in the field in case you get an upset member or customer. These guys faced dogs. I mean they face all kinds of things in the field. But one of the things we wanted to do, because a lot of times that's really utility focuses, in their field personnel.

Jill:

You kind of forget if there's a whole nother-

Russell:

You forget about the office. So right now, we do have a lot of things set up for those guys in the field. We've got the online modules as well and they're enjoying those, but also we're starting to get our office personnel caught up with safety as well. So they're liking that.

Jill:

Yeah. And, they're not to be forgotten. They're still employees and they still have workplace hazards it's just in a different realm. That's wonderful. So what else are you doing to teach yourself about safety? People who are just starting out kind of like you, you're sort of new to safety. What sort of advice would you give them?

Russell:

One of the things that's been difficult is whether or not I should actually get into full-blown safety training because we are still looking for that safety coordinator, whether we hire someone or go contract. And so we're trying to figure out now how deep in this am I supposed to get? Right. Because directors or higher up managers, they know what's going on. They see the results of things that are taking place, but they're not in the weeds with all that, like a safety manager or safety coordinator would be right. So we are trying to figure out what is my role being that I'm the only safety person right now.

Jill:

And you're still trying to balance those other job titles that were on the business card as well.

Russell:

So in the midst of operations, in the midst of maintenance being just our building and facilities maintenance, I have done courses on how do you lead your business in a culture change, right? So if you look at utility, utility hasn't changed in years. I think they're going through a point, from what I've learned so far, they're going through a time of transition of what they've done for the past since their inception up until now where safety is becoming a big deal. And so you see more and more of cooperatives across the country that had an issue with safety trainings, and how they're addressing that culture shift. And so a lot of my training has been on change management or leading that culture.

Jill:

We're breaking down that the way it's always been done kind of mentality. And in that culture of change, that is a piece of safety, it really is because we need to figure out how to convey those messages to our employees so that they are performing the way we want them to when nobody's looking and that we care about them authentically and they care about one another.

Russell:

I think one of the biggest issues is, especially when I was in oil and gas, I saw our vice presidents come in, and they would come in our warehouses in their suits and yet they have steel toes and their hard hats on and so I heard the grumble from our side of things from the regular workers of why do we have to do this? This is stupid stuff like that. Being on the end that I am now is that I see how hard it is to sell safety.

Jill:

It is a sales job.

Russell:

It is. And so the steps of if I don't buy off on it, they're not going to buy off on it. And so at some point whether or not in the past I've always agreed with the steps of safety, because we always try to work safe, we just don't want to be forced to do these things. So at some point, me as a manager, I've got a mouth on it myself. I want my guys to come home every day and so do their families.

Jill:

What have you found that works for you? Is there a particular message or an approach that you've been taking with employees when you're building credibility with them?

Russell:

So far the number one thing that I can say is just my presence in playing that part. So if I go out in the field or if I go in the warehouse or around the yard, I have to be safety minded. So if I'm playing that role and I'm doing it happily, then they see that and selling it. And so it is my presence so far. That's what I would think.

Jill:

Yeah. One of the other things I wanted to ask about, especially when you're new in this kind of field, safety people you said to have to figure out how to sell safety, but you also have to figure out how to pay for safety. And safety people rarely have a budget. Many of us have worked for years and years without, in the absence of a budget, but there's still always things to be spending on whether it's medical evaluations for respirators are audiometric testing or personal protective equipment or engineering control things. There're all these things that we need to spend money on, but we don't have a budget. So curious to know how have you been creative in finding money that you need to do your work?

Russell:

I was at work one day and the manager of our meter shop, Deb, came in and had this brilliant idea. We've had a recycling company, the same company for the past 30 years probably. And we just kind of looked at that and evaluated their presence in our facility. So Deb had this idea of, she touched base with another recycling company out of Dallas, that would break down everything that we brought in from the field, whether it's our copper from old meters or the lines or the steel that we get. And so they broke that down and they came in and so now we have different bins for everything. And so they picked that up and now we're getting a better return off that recycled material. In 2018 alone, I think we've made about 15,000 off of recycling. So from that, we were sitting down trying to decide what we're going to do with that one day. And I asked her if people would enjoy getting our boots because the company doesn't pay for their steel toe boots right now. And so I took that to our GM and said, "Look, I think this would be a great way for us to fund steel toe boots."

Jill:

What did they say?

Russell:

"Well, that's a good idea." He said, "I'll let you have a percentage of that." And so we did that for the year and we allowed, I think we were going 150 reimbursement on their boots based off of what we get off of recycling.

Jill:

That's great. Wow. So you're creative with that. That is wonderful. So what a good tip for the people that are listening to the podcast is if you're looking for a creative way to find money, start a recycling program or find a way to save money in your company. I've talked to people who've done the same thing with changing out light bulbs and being able to have more energy efficiency and then realizing what that return is and asking, can we divert those funds that we would have normally spent and put it into safety? What a great idea.

Russell:

Yes. And so far it's worked out well and all the guys have enjoyed it too. They don't have to go out and their own boots.

Jill:

Yeah. So when you get stumped on safety stuff, and you need help and you need to go somewhere, what have been your resources? Where do you usually go if you're trying to find an answer to something on safety or doing your own research on something?

Russell:

About a few months ago, I sat down because we had several avenues for safety researcher or where were plugged in and had a membership at safety things or companies. So I sat down and started to write out all the areas we're involved in and so the National Safety Council or our insurance through Texas Mutual that covers our worker's computer.

Jill:

A good resource too.

Russell:

Our learning modules through Vivid Smith Driving. I started to write out all of these areas and everything that they provide, right? And so for instance, Texas Mutual, what we found out, once I wrote down all these areas, I started to go back and see what would each of those areas offered us. And so through our insurance at Texas Mutual, we didn't know that we had free safety classes at the local college. Right. So we've been paying all these years for certain classes.

Jill:

And didn't know that you could take advantage, yeah.

Russell:

Now, we can send these guys for free. I think too many times that we jumped the gun and start to get memberships to all these areas, and we don't realize what they offer, and they can go to how you track safety. Let's look at metrics. I know for the first several months that I had safety, what are our metrics going to be? We have not an idea.

Jill:

How do I measure this? What's good?

Russell:

In the midst of getting into these businesses that we're partnered with, man, the answers are right there and I just never knew that.

Jill:

And you're using your operations hat brought and applying it to safety. Perfect. That's wonderful. I thank you for bringing up insurance because a lot of employers don't know what they're paying for in those premiums, whether they're self-insured or they're fully insured. You have an opportunity to take advantage of many things that you don't necessarily know about. Some insurance companies will offer industrial hygiene monitoring, so if you want air monitoring done or noise monitoring done you might be able to get it through your insurance company for free or for reduced cost. You found out you could have classes at a community college. That's fantastic. A lot of resources.

Russell:

There was also another business we partnered with that we were looking into changing our GPS monitoring for all our vehicles and that's a pretty big expense, right? So through another safety company that were involved in if we go through this one GPS company, because we're both involved with this other company, we get a huge discount just for that. The networking between safety companies is pretty large. You don't know who's offering what discounts, how much money you can save if you don't do the research.

Jill:

Yeah. And working your network. So before maybe someone's going to jump the gun and let's look at what we have or what are we working with now, what sort of advantages are they and it'll also be a way to sift out what's not working too or what's not providing a service that you thought maybe you were getting. They could get somewhere else. That's wonderful. That's wonderful. So the job of safety, pretty big job. Carries with it a lot of weight, a lot of gravity to know that you're responsible for human beings lives in part. Yeah. How did that work for you? I mean that's a big shift.

Russell:

I think, and I've thought about this lately as well. We've had several discussions on it, but the idea of management period, there's a lot of people that want to be in management. There's a lot of people that want to be in safety for the idea of controlling that area of work. But a lot of times I don't think we sit and realize what we're responsible for. We can be technically trained at our jobs and automatically think we're made for management when you may not be, you're technically trained from what you do, not so much management or falling into safety like I do with you. So there's a lot of catch up that I think I'm having to do and sometimes it does get overwhelming, but you got to roll with life sometimes. So take it with a grain of salt. Take it day by day. Do your research for sure. And you'll get it done.

Jill:

So are you enjoying the work?

Russell:

I do enjoy work. I enjoy work simply because I love people. I've been in aviation, I've been in oil and gas. I'm now and utility and I think the one thing that I've taken with me from every industry that I've been in is how much I enjoy working with the people that love those industries. So I think that's what really helps me be in safety because I mean, I admit, sometimes it's still hard for me to swallow the safety pill, but I love the people that I work with and I want to make sure they come home every day and I want to make sure that their families see them every day. And so that's kind of what helps me be human.

Jill:

That's great. That's great. So what are you looking forward to with the expo here? What brought you here? I mean it's in your home state, so it was easy for you to access of course. But what do you look for when you come to a conference like this?

Russell:

It is in my home state but it was still a four-hour drive just to get down here.

Jill:

Right. It is a big state.

Russell:

It takes 12 hours just to get from the eastern part to the western part of Texas. Texas is big. But this is my first time at the expo and one of the things that was on my agenda is to ... we do need a safety coordinator and so that's what I'm here to do, to kind of feel out and network to see what companies either I can get a safety coordinator from or that we can contract with say for a few times a week. I don't know what that looks like yet. We're still on the early stages of making that happen.

Jill:

And maybe it's finding that right fit between technical and a leader. Like you were talking about what's going to be the right fit for your company.

Russell:

One of the things that do want, I think I want, is with me coming into the utility not knowing anything about utilities, I don't know that I can do the same thing for a safety coordinator for the utility. So one of the things I am looking for is that they had utility experience. So it's enough for me not to have utility experience and trying to play catch up, but I really need them to have that.

Jill:

You want to be able to work in network while you're here at the conference. What about any of the courses that you can take or any of the sessions here?

Russell:

One of the things I am taking is, I can't remember the exact title of it, but it's like we talked about earlier, it's also on leading that cultural change and how to make that beneficial for everybody. I believe that one's on Wednesday, but I can't remember the exact time.

Jill:

Yeah, good. Good reason. Good reason to be here. Well, this is my first time at the National Conference, so you and I are both here for the first time and you're the guest on our podcast, which is wonderful. I appreciate that. This has been really fun. Thank you for sharing your story.

Russell:

Sure Thing.

Jill:

You get the safety job because it shows up on your business card. Who would've thought?

Russell:

I know it. That's right. Yeah. That's exactly how it happened.

Jill:

That's wonderful. Well, thank you.

Russell:

Thank you.

Jill:

And thanks for everybody who's listening in today and thanks for being part of the podcast. If you'd like to listen to other episodes, you can find the Accidental Safety Pro on the podcast player of your choosing and if you'd like to contact us, you can reach out to us at social @vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thank you.