Category Archives: Safety

Review of Drug-Free Workplace Policies is Highly Recommended

The alternative titles for this post are endless…

We strongly suggest that if you have not reviewed your drug-free workplace policies in a year or more, it is time to get reacquainted with your program. Many employers are starting to freak out a bit about upcoming marijuana decriminalization, legalization, and ultimately greater access allowed for Americans – and rightfully so. It is a murky landscape, with few sources of clarity.

As more states allow the recreational use of marijuana, a failed drug test becomes a beginning, not necessarily an end, in the pre-employment and post-offer timeline. At least 20 states to date have passed laws that allow for the use of medical marijuana. A likely scenario is a prospective or current employee admits to being a medical marijuana patient. Now what?

The possession of marijuana and it’s use are still against the law under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. If your state of operation has allowed the medical use of marijuana, then federal enforcement does not apply. In fact, many states have strict laws protecting qualified patients from discrimination in employment practices.

Consider another scenario – in Arizona and Delaware, employers cannot discharge, penalize, or refuse to hire a lawful medical marijuana user based on a positive drug test for marijuana components or metabolites unless that person actually used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana while on the employer’s premises during working hours. In short, a positive test alone is not grounds for discharge, no matter what company policy states. There must be evidence of the employee being under the influence of marijuana while in the workplace. This points to additional training for your supervisors and others making hiring and placement decisions similar to “under the influence” training. Timelines and observations will be key in the case of employees challenging failed drug tests and whether or not they were impaired while at the workplace.

The phrase “safety sensitive positions” goes hand in hand with medical and recreational marijuana. Currently, most laws do not allow for operation of any motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. If you are in Rhode Island or Delaware, a registered and qualified patient using medical marijuana would not be considered to be under the influence just based on metabolites of marijuana being in their system.

With all of this said, most states that do have medical marijuana laws have maintained the employer’s right to have a drug-free workplace.

As always, step one with program review is to ensure that your program is compliant with local and state laws. With this specific topic, if you are still looking for guidance and answers, it is good practice to discuss with your legal counsel of choice.

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Spilling Safety Secrets Part 2

Where my girls at?? This post is aimed at you. Don’t worry guys, it is for you too, if you are willing to think outside of the hard hat a bit.

Since day one of my career as a safety professional in (mostly) construction, the question I’m most commonly asked is “what’s it like being a female in your field?” The question is asked in multiple ways, so I’m paraphrasing because sometimes the question comes off horribly!

My short answer – it is great! I know the asker is always looking for more drama in my response, but it REALLY has been great. I’ll explain why, and hopefully you can glean some lessons off of my experience that you can put to work for you – female or male – general industry or construction.

1. People expected that I didn’t know anything.

This was because I am female AND came straight from college, two strikes! I’ve walked onto projects not knowing a single thing about the work, we ALL have – that’s part of the learning process. It is only magnified by the fact that construction is a dynamic field with new building methods, terminology, and tools always emerging. My big secret when you’re in that new situation? Ask questions!

As a female, I could ask all kinds of questions that a male in my position may have been looked down upon for asking. I learned quickly that men love to talk about their jobs. I continue to learn so much in my career by simply asking “what are you doing?” The answers have helped me craft detailed activity hazard analysis documents, specialized training programs, and allow me to confidently communicate with jobsite personnel, superintendents, project managers, and executives.

The males in my field are assumed to have a working knowledge of the tools and processes of the trade because they’re men. At the beginning of my career, I assumed this general male knowledge too. That perspective changed when I found myself teaching a group of 25 crane operators the basic parts of a crane!! Remember the old phrase “never assume, it makes an ass out of u and me?” If you are to succeed in safety, you must live by this. NEVER ASSUME. It’s literally dangerous. If you must assume something, assume that no one knows anything. Or as we say in construction, “common sense isn’t so common.”

I’m not suggesting that you walk around arrogantly thinking everyone is a dummy!Approach each situation as a teachable moment to save embarrassment on both sides. Practice this often so that you can learn your natural approach that works for you.

Those of you who come from an academic background vs. having come up through the field ranks can have a disadvantage. The field personnel may see you as less knowledgeable. You’ve got to listen first, and then offer corrections or education. If you don’t listen first, you will be perceived as a bookish know-it-all and be immediately written off. Take some time to learn and show appreciation for those who have been working in trenches, literally, their entire career.

2. Everything was brand new.

When I attended my first safety committee meeting of the Associated General Contractors group in San Diego, I think there was one other woman at the table. This was just over 10 years ago. Even though these were modern times, a woman on the jobsite in a safety role was still relatively new. When everything is new, you can do exciting things.

I lived by the phrase “if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” Because I was new to the jobsites, the crews expected there would be new ways of doing things, so they were more receptive to new policies. I had to work to maintain their initial reception, but not having the initial pushback for the sake of pushing back in most cases was helpful.

For either gender, you must maintain that dynamic by following through. When the guys would ask me for help, like getting them face shields that fit their hard hats or ensuring better access to gloves that wear out quickly – I followed through and that endeared me to the workforce. Whether it was things or information, always follow through. If you can’t get it or don’t know the answer, tell them the truth and then get back to them. Always.

3. Show that you care.

The men on the jobsites looked to me as someone who cared, like a mother figure. This is the foundation of why being a female on the jobsite is not that bad, caring for the safety of others is a mostly natural position for a woman. I’d often say “I actually care about you guys!” during safety meetings and training. It’s a funny thing to say, but it really is how I feel. I will always fight for those in the construction industry, they are often overlooked or taken for granted. I care about you!!

If you don’t naturally care about the safety and well-being of the personnel at your site, this may not be the right job for you. If you aren’t viewed as a caring person, male or female, you must find what your natural approach is. Safety for the sake of education, pride, or other motivation – I’m not going to judge, use what works for you.

I’m looking forward to your feedback on this subject. I’m already planning a Part 2.1!!

By: Abby Ferri, CSP

This post originally appeared on http://www.abbyferri.com and through LinkedIn Publishing by Abby Ferri.

Spilling Safety Secrets Part 1

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 prophecy of the shortage of safety professionals is coming true. Especially in construction. As work is on the upswing for 2014 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!

Please let me know in the comments if you’re interested in more info or you can always email me. As we say in safety – sharing is caring and there’s no secrets in safety. I’ve spilled one of mine, more to come!

By: Abby Ferri, CSP

This post originally appeared on http://www.abbyferri.com and through LinkedIn Publishing by Abby Ferri.