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Roundtable Interview

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Slippery Rock University professors share their experiences and insights about working in the safety industry and teaching students interested in going into the field.

Dr. Rona Smeak PhD, CSP– Dr. Smeak teaches Intro to Safety, Principles of Industrial Hygiene, and Ergonomics at Slippery Rock University. She is also the faculty advisor for the Women in Safety Excellence student chapter on campus.

Michael Adamczyk– Mr. Adamczyk has worked at Komatsu Mining Corp., Allegheny College, Joy Global, and IKEA Group. He just started teaching at Slippery Rock University as an instructor for Security in the Workplace, and Management and Integration of Safety.

Hope Dropp– Ms. Dropp teaches Construction Safety and Safety Training and Development at Slippery Rock University.

If there is one lesson worth repeating/emphasizing, what would it be?

Smeak: Safety is a program that requires communication that encourages and motivates all levels of management to prioritize safety. From lowest level employees to the CEO. Some days that’s very hard to do. Also, it’s worth repeating that being silent and walking past a hazard without saying anything or correcting it is a non-verbal acceptance of an unsafe situation.

Adamczyk: Safety is a journey, not a destination. It is a road of highs and lows with many in-betweens, and it can take you as far as you want, provided you are willing to put forth the time and effort.

Dropp: I would tell people not to burn any bridges. Often, people get angry with someone and it does not end well. The Safety Profession is still small enough that you will run into the same people as they change jobs. It is important to make sure you don’t burn your bridges in order to continue working with people in the future. Also, you have to be excited about what you do. If you are not excited about what you do, then others won’t be either. As a safety professional you cannot be in this job just for the money. You have to love what you are doing.

Q2: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced on the job?

Smeak: Getting management to understand the importance of safety and getting them to understand that, if they put the money up front for safety programs would make a big difference. I’ve also found that being a woman in this field can be challenging. In my experience, men and women alike seem to get more defensive when a woman, myself, is telling them what to do. It is still a challenge to this day.

Adamczyk: I’ve found that it can be challenging to be ethical in this field. I’ve been transferred off job sites for doing the ethical thing, such as not lying on incident investigations, or not caving-in to management requests to basically cover up incidents. So, for me the most challenging thing wasn’t doing the right thing, but knowing that it could have repercussions.

Dropp: Dealing with people who don’t necessarily feel the same way I do about safety. Those who feel like safety is not important and don’t understand why I’m telling them what they need to know, or why they should react a certain way, can infuriate me. Teaching students and fellow co-workers who feel like they don’t need to learn about safety is one my biggest challenges.

What was the most rewarding safety job you’ve had and why?

Smeak: It has to be this job, seeing students start out as “clueless” freshman and watching them grow into confident adults. I have seen students start out their internships being scared and intimidated of the work in front of them. But when they’re out, and enjoying successful careers, I feel so proud! That’s what makes this job so rewarding.

Adamczyk: I worked in heavy manufacturing for approximately nine years. During this time frame I learned so much! I experienced a major culture shift in the right direction. Knowing your efforts are making a positive impact on the lives of others is very rewarding.

Dropp: Teaching at Slippery Rock, because I have hundreds of engaged and driven students who are passionate and want to make a difference. And I know that the things I mentioned before that challenged me, do not have to challenges for my students…they won’t have to learn the hard way. They can learn certain things to avoid from me and but continue to have wonderful careers make the world a better place.

What is the newest lesson you are teaching students this year?

Smeak: One of the newest topics I’m discussing is wearable technology in Ergonomics as well as nanotechnology in Industrial Hygiene.

Adamczyk: The use of leading indicators to assist management in measuring safety performance. Though this is not an entirely new concept, there are still many companies that have yet to recognize the potential benefits that can be realized by incorporating leading indicators to their key metrics.

Dropp: I have added psycho-social risk discussion, like burn out and stress to my itinerary. Suicide and substance abuse are growing problems in many industries. Construction is just one of them. It’s important to know the signs to look out for and to know how to be there for your employees, fellow co-workers, friends and classmates.

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