This post is aimed at my construction homies, specifically: superintendents, longtime foremen, and tradespeople with 10 years of experience that have an interest in safety. Heck, it’s even for the people that have asked “what the hell do you do all day as the safety guy?” (yes, they were aware that I’m female, but “safety guy” is a gender-neutral term)
The 2011 prophecy of the shortage of safety professionals is coming true. Especially in construction. As work is on the upswing for 2016 and clients and owners are more safety-savvy, contractors are facing tougher safety requirements than ever. If you’ve been working on a military site the past 5+ years, you already know what I’m talking about! Other clients and owners in healthcare, technology and education have stepped up their expectations for safety already and it’s coming to other industries. It HAS to.
Now that you understand the need, how can you prepare yourself for an exciting career in safety? (read that in daytime commercial voice…) I get asked about safety career paths at least once a week. In person, by phone, an email from a long-lost coworker, and complete strangers on LinkedIn. My advice is usually the same, so I wanted to compile that here for future reference.
My advice is slanted towards construction, because that was my life for over 10 years. However, the advice could transfer easily to other industries. Here are my secrets to making safety your second (successful) career:
1. Make sure you have the following credentials: OSHA 30 Hour and 5-10 years of field experience.
2. If pursuing work with contractors who work for the military, you need the EM385 40 Hour certificate.
3. If you have #1 and #2, consider taking the Safety Trained Supervisor (STS) or Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) exams. These exams are run by the BCSP, that’s where I got my CSP. Sure, there are other certifications out there, but these are the gold standard.
4. Fine-tune your resume. Heck, send it to me, and I’ll help you out. abbyferri at gmail dot com. A tradesperson with 5-10 years of experience on jobsites that has #1 and #2 and working towards #3 is a unicorn!! You’ve got to have your resume tuned right to highlight your “progressive safety responsibility” and your safety education.
5. For those of you who have been on a jobsite your entire life, your computer skills may be lacking. Sit down with your teenager or millennial of choice, and let them show you the basics of Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint, email, internet (osha.gov of course), and take a basic typing class. Hunting and pecking will get you by, but safety administrative tasks have grown, so you will want to be a quick typer so you can get back out on the jobsite.
If you’re a contractor reading this, and you’re facing a shortage of good safety folks at your company, I have advice for you too:
1. Identify field employees who are looking for more out of their career. Bonus points if those people have an interest or aptitude for safety.
2. Offer an OSHA 30 Hour class on 4 consecutive Saturdays or in the evenings at a jobsite. Or offer it online if you use ClickSafety, PureSafety or other online training provider.
3. Coordinate a study group for the STS and/or CHST. Pick a Project Manager or Project Engineer to lead the group. Your safety personnel are too busy and it will be much more effective to use them as your resource vs. teacher.
4. #2 and #3 are a resume-builder for everyone, you’ll be surprised at the interest if you offer them. If you do government work, you should already be offering these two classes/groups at least once a year.
5. Fine-tune the resumes for the folks identified in #1. Think of projects you’ve got on your horizon and where you can plug them in, the time is now.
Safety is an excellent career choice and it’s been great to me. I enjoy seeing the varied paths that people have taken in their careers. One is not better than the other, just different. I know that safety pros like me who came from college with a Masters in Safety (Environmental, Health, and Safety to be exact) have a tougher road these days because they lack real jobsite experience. It seems contractors are less open to taking on these graduates, but there is definitely a place for them in your program. A Project Manager at my first job after graduation told me to report to the same jobsite for at least a month at 6am. On day one, I went into his office in the trailer, he said “what are you doing in here? get out there and learn.” So I did and I did!