Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Pam Walaski Discusses Effective Safety Communication

Developing and maintaining an effective safety program requires team leaders to manage a large number of shifting contingencies on a daily basis. When getting back to basics, however, there are several pillars that make a program successful. For this week’s Faces of EHS installment, we spoke with Pam Walaski, who will be discussing two of those pillars in her upcoming Safety Summit workshop and conference session: effective communication and risk assessment. Read on to learn more about Walaski’s career path and successes as an environment, health, and safety (EHS) professional!
Pam Walaski Headshot

What is the biggest EHS compliance challenge at your organization, and how have you managed it?

For our clients, the biggest challenge is navigating the various regulatory requirements in a way that allows them to maintain effective, efficient, and productive operations. Our role in assisting with this process is to conduct a gap analysis to identify areas of risk and opportunity, then help develop a plan for closing the gaps.

We find our clients are best able to accomplish this process when they focus on a management system process rather than one-off compliance in a specific area, and our work with them typically focuses on continual improvement.

What do you like the most about your career in EHS?

Over the 25+ years I have been in this field, I have found the professional relationships that I have developed with passionate and committed safety professionals are what gets me going every day. We have a very difficult job with life-altering consequences, yet almost everyone I have met and spent time with works every day to give their best, trying to learn how they can do their job better and more effectively. I am proud to be part of this profession.

What do you see as the main emerging trends, both positive and negative, affecting the future of the EHS profession?

As we have seen fatalities and serious injury rates stagnate and, in some cases and sectors, rise, occupational safety and health professionals are coming to the appreciation that compliance-based programs are not enough to reduce an organization’s risk profile. So, they are leading the shift to risk-based approaches that are embedded in effective management systems that focus on continual improvement.

I have also seen an increased focus on worker health and social safety that is grounded in an understanding that workers are best able to perform for their organizations when their overall health, including mental health, is considered and supported. This includes actions to support freedom from workplace violence and resources to address mental health support. Assessing, understanding, and developing initiatives to address these needs are a growing part of our profession and rightly so.

Your upcoming presentations at Safety Summit 2020 are focused on risk assessments and safety communications. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be discussing?

The workshop I will be leading focuses on the critical role of high-functioning risk assessment teams as an integral part of risk management. Developing and delivering training to risk assessment team members usually falls to the occupational safety and health professional in the organization, and that person is responsible for developing a framework for this process that includes using adult learning principles to customize content for risk identification, analysis, and evaluation. But as he or she does so, many questions may arise, including which stakeholders should be on the team, how to maintain their effectiveness once they begin to work, and how to expand the process in an organization that needs multiple teams. Working together in the workshop, we will be addressing and solutioning all these issues.

My general conference session will focus on communicating safety to the workforce. We’ll consider whether conversations with the workforce about safety-related issues are meaningful and if our messages are getting across. Communicating about safety requires so much more than telling an employee what he or she is doing isn’t “safe.” Interactions like these do little to affect real change and can be harmful to the relationship between the occupational safety and health professional and the workforce. Effective communication is a key part of safety leadership, but it’s often challenging to get right. The session will ask attendees to reconsider their role in the communication process and learn to identify their own barriers and appreciate ways in which their messages can be more effectively delivered.

What advice do you have for people just entering the profession?

Try not to miss opportunities to network—virtually, in person, within your organization, and outside of it. The members of your profession’s networking group may change over time, but they will be your support team, your cheerleaders, and your go-to problem-solvers who will enhance your career and challenge you to grow.

And never stop learning. Always have a safety-related book in your backpack, follow interesting people on LinkedIn, and take classes and workshops that stretch you and help you continue to grow in your professional practice.

Pam Walaski, CSP, a senior program director with Specialty Technical Consultants, Inc., has 25 years of experience helping organizations create sustainable occupational safety and health programs. She specializes in conducting safety and health management system assessments and integrating risk management programs that assist organizations in improving bottom-line performance. She has a national reputation as a seminar leader and conference/webinar presenter covering multiple occupational safety and health topics, including risk management, serious injury prevention, OSHA compliance, and contractor management. Walaski is also a published author, including her own book, Risk and Crisis Communications: Methods and Messages (Wiley, 2011), and is the Safety Management Systems Section Coordinator for the third edition of the Safety Professionals Handbook, currently under revision (American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), 2012). She is currently an At-Large Member of the Board of Directors of the ASSP. She received the Safety Professional of the Year Award from Region VIII in 2018.

Specialty Technical Consultants, Inc. (STC) is a specialized management consulting firm that works globally to enhance its clients’ EHS performance. The company helps its clients manage complex worker safety and environmental challenges as business issues rather than as engineering or legal obstacles. Through this process, STC uncovers opportunities for its clients to increase program efficiency, reduce costs, and gain competitive advantage. STC employs 15 full-time consultants based across the United States, each of whom has a minimum of 20 years’ experience. Typical projects include occupational safety and health management system development and implementation, auditing, and regulatory compliance and support.

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Would you like to be profiled in a future Faces of EHS and share your experiences, challenges, etc.? Or, do you know anyone else in EHS you think has an interesting story to tell? Write us at jscace@blr.com and cdouyard@blr.com and include your name and contact information; be sure to put “Faces of EHS” in the subject line.