April Member of the Month: Kevin O'Brien
Do you take safety home with you? If so, how?
Prior to coming on board with Access Health Systems, I worked in the finance industry. Like many happy homeowners, I was not going to make mountains out of mole hills. I took short cuts and safety was an afterthought. The VPP program makes workers more conscious of the hazards associated with their environment. When safety becomes a core value, it affects all aspects of your life and impacts the decisions you make. On more than one occasion I have taken abuse from my neighbors. When I mow the lawn or weedwack, I wear safety glasses, ear protection and a respirator (allergies). If its late, I sport a safety vest to increase visibility. I would not have done this 10 years ago. Recently, I remodeled my kitchen, I used a respirator to protect me from dust and hearing protection (to tune out my wife).
What is/was your position and how long have you been in the position?
Shortly after being hired to promote occupational health and safety services, I volunteered to be the VPP Coordinator. As the VPP Coordinator I was given the opportunity to develop employee training modules and to sharpen my presentation skills. Access invested time and money in my professional development. As EHS Director, I am responsible for managing the VPP program, developing curriculum for general industry and construction clients. Examples include permit required confined space, respiratory protection, the control of hazardous energy and respirable crystalline silica to name a few. I truly enjoy what I do.
What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Overcoming the price objection. Recently, a prospective client asked me to visit their site and provide a quote for 70E training. I asked two questions initially. First, I asked to see their lockout/tagout out program, they advised me that it was under development. The second question I asked, was how to they determine who is qualified and who is not? They acknowledged that there was no established system for making this determination. In order to have an effective safety system you need management commitment, employee involvement, hazard assessment, implementation of controls and training. These elements are not mutually exclusive. Failing to address any one these elements could lead to a catastrophic loss. Often when employers determine their return on investment, they fail to recognize the indirect costs of non-compliance. In the final analysis, investing resources in safety pays huge dividends.
What is your most recent accomplishment?
I took the OSHA 501 course at Rutgers and became an outreach trainer in construction.
What advice would you give to “past you?"
Good health trumps everything. Over the years I have met countless people that took shortcuts, fought controls and didn’t take control of their own safety, impacting their ability to provide for their family and enjoy life. When I review hearing conservation and see individuals with profound hearing loss, I can’t help but wonder how much they miss. I think of my father who spent his golden years fighting to breath. If only he had worn a respirator, how different his life would have been.
What makes you passionate about the VPPPA?
When you look at work related injury and illnesses, they are preventable with a plan. We have all heard the static that 12 people will die today as a result of a work-related incident. Another 50,000 people die each year as a result of exposure (ex. Lead, asbestos, silica, …). The VPPPA provides a platform to network with safety professionals around the country to share best practices and to improve safety and health systems. If you have problem, you can call a friend or take a life line. Either way you will be working with people that are passionate about promoting a safe and healthful workplace.
What is your favorite aspect of being part of the association?
Bar far and away it is the people that you meet that makes the Association so appealing. When I was hired by Access Health Systems, I went through orientation, they made it clear that safety is a big deal. Initially, I didn’t get it, until I went to my first VPPPA Conference. I heard Kina Repp tell her story of overcoming a horrific work place accident and I was hooked. Thousands of people were attending a safety conference and they were all equally passionate about promoting safety and preventing work place injury and illness. The atmosphere was electric and wanted all in.
What advice would you give to someone interested in the VPP or VPPPA?
VPP is an employee driven program. This statement cannot be understated. A directive from management will not be enough to sustain a program that meets all the individual elements. Efforts must me made early on to get buy in from the employees. Management must be willing to empower employees to execute and enhance systems. In short, they must have meaningful involvement. Failure to act on recommendations and to address safety concerns expeditiously will demonstrate a lack of commitment and kill the program. You need to view the VPP program as a journey built on continuous improvement. Achieving VPP Star status one thing, but maintaining it is another. Your most precious resource is your people. They are worth it. This is a journey worth taking and the VPPPA and OSHA will have your back. We want your star to shine brightly, welcome aboard!!!