Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Wyatt Bradbury Discusses the Benefits of Service, Communication, and Learning

For some, environment, health, and safety (EHS) is simply a job. For others, working in EHS is a passion, and they throw themselves into the field with (hopefully not too) reckless abandon. In our latest Faces of EHS profile, we spoke with Wyatt Bradbury, an HSE Advisor with Hitachi Rail, about transitioning away from a History major and into an active EHS career, the importance of service, and the desire to never stop learning.

Wyatt Bradbury HeadshotWhat led you to pursue a career in the EHS field?

Like so many other professionals I “fell” into safety. I have always had a passion for aquatics, and in college had the opportunity to work at the Recreation and Wellness Department. I became a Red Cross Instructor and started to teach their internal and community lifeguarding and CPR/First Aid Classes. I still had about18 months or so of my undergraduate studies remaining when I started working full time in construction safety in a role that included training and training development. From there, I was hooked. I loved the diverse nature of the work and focus on learning and continual improvement. The opportunities to train, coach, write, and think critically were a natural fit for me.

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

At my current organization we are really working to take our program from meeting basic compliance objectives to thriving in the realm of continual development. Our approach is to make each employee a risk manager and help them own the HSE process that falls within their area of expertise. We are finding that employees and leaders alike are extremely responsive to this approach and engagement. As safety professionals, we need to involve stakeholders in our process and guide them, letting them lead us where the safety program ultimately needs to go.

Are there any EHS challenges unique to the work you do that could prove instructive to other EHS professionals?

The construction and commissioning of rail communication and control systems has elements that do not look all that different from “traditional” construction, save for the fact that we are working in and around rail-mounted vehicles. This requires continual coordination and communication. This is a highly dynamic workplace, and success without incident depends on our ability to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate with the client and other organizations working on the systems.

How has your involvement and/or service with safety organizations, such as the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), shaped your approach to ‘on the ground’ organizational safety?

The leadership opportunities in ASSP have helped me develop my leadership style, identify and work on weaknesses, and creatively find ways to support other professionals. Leadership in ASSP has also allowed me to interact with, learn from, and be mentored by some of the most renown and seasoned leaders in our profession. These leadership skills and lessons directly influence the way I respond to problems that arise within my daily work. Additionally, ASSP leadership has afforded me the opportunity to build a national network of professionals from across the various safety disciplines. This network has the answers to any questions I have and is a fantastic resource to ensuring I remain on the cutting edge of approaches and have the knowledge I need to work through new scenarios I encounter.

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

I love being challenged to think critically and learn continually. I enjoy understanding how humans think, process, and act. I love observing work and identifying the innovations that take place at the point of work so that we can have meaningful conversations at those intersections between the human and machine within the system.

I also love the fantastic people I have been able to meet and operations I have been privileged to see.

What is the most difficult or frustrating part of your job?

I think there are two main challenges. Firstly, it is navigating conflicting goals. Capacity and resources of any type will always be limited. Professionals need to learn to build resiliency into their approaches and HSE systems that accounts for this.

The second challenge is understanding, acknowledging, and educating the individual perception of risk and vulnerability of employees. This becomes especially important during situations like our current pandemic when clear, consistent, and reliable information has not been the standard. This understanding of an individual’s vulnerability to a given risk allows us to construct a safety system that is resilient enough to keep people safe even with a diversity of risk perceptions.

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

One positive trend I see is the focus on continual learning and development. Just like safety management systems, our people need to continually develop, learn, and grow. The accessibility of higher education, support for engagement within organizations like ASSP, and desire to earn certifications like the Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Associate Safety Professional (ASP), Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST), and Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician (OHST) will collectively strengthen our profession.

One negative trend I am seeing is continued judgement of decisions. There is an increased expectation that we need to collect all information, decide on a course of action, then punish leaders if the decision ends up not working out. We need to push the positive trend of development toward a place of learning, experimenting, and failing safely. Perfection, like target zero, is not reality, and the prominence of judgement and expectation that decisions will be correct does now allow for organizational learning and instead stifles growth.

Safety committee meeting

KoOlyphoto / Shutterstock.com

As a young safety professional, do you have any thoughts on the role of institutional knowledge?

The metrics show that safety leaders are increasingly entering our profession from college as opposed to the field. While this means they bring with them a stronger understanding of regulations, management systems, and theories, it also means their understanding of work and work-as-done is limited at best. With this situation, it is critical that experienced professionals and organizational leaders share their wealth of knowledge, experience, and understanding with these emerging professionals. There is a need like never before to transfer this information to the incoming generation of safety leaders so that they can be prepared to effectively integrate safety into their organizations through means and methods that complement the work taking place.

How would you balance the need for an organization to maintain existing safety practices/culture to new employees while also remaining open to new or emerging best practices that young safety professionals might bring to the table?

I challenge this question a bit. Safety Management Systems tell us to be continually improving, continually growing, and continually developing. As organizations, we should be adapting to the world around us and evolving with it in order to stay competitive. Change might be micro instead of macro, but it should still be occurring or the organization risks becoming unable to adapt in the face of crisis like we are seeing now.

The challenge with emerging professionals bringing ideas and innovations to the table is that these employees often do so without an understanding of the organizational context or process. Immediately shutting down the employee is going to result in disengagement and possibly resentment. Adapting every proposal without critical evaluation will damage the culture that does exist and fail to integrate the proposal into the system beyond the initial period of implementation. The opportunity is for organizations to train emerging professionals in the process for continual development and improvement. Regardless of the potential for implementation, going through the motions for building a business case will allow them to practice engaging stakeholders, understand the financial implications or budgetary process, and gain a deeper understanding of the organizational culture and process for how work gets done. This context is invaluable and can only be found by giving emerging professional license to be creative and explore even if there is no intention to fully implement. Chances are, this exercise will help them not only become more valuable to the organization through an understanding of how it works but also practice bringing forward innovations that will make the organization more competitive and resilient in the longer term.

What’s your favorite job-related story that you like to tell others?

I look back to when I started in safety and laugh at myself. I truly believed that safety was black and white, compliance or not, safe and unsafe. I thought employees needed to comply and was not opposed to blaming them for making mistakes. I thought everyone in business could communicate through e-mail and depended on it to accomplish my job back then. I have come to see now that I could not have been more wrong, and my impact was severely limited as a result of my approach. As professionals we must navigate risk knowing that there will generally be some residual, we must be comfortable in the gray. The employee is an asset, not a machine, and generally the solution to our most complex problems. Compliance with regulations is generally a great starting point but is far from actually being in a safer state. Communication needs to happen through means and methods that the employee or recipient of the message can relate to or there is risk of not properly decoding the message. I love sharing these stories with emerging professionals as I truly hope they avoid making some of the same mistakes I made early on in their career.

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

There are three key things that I would say. First, understand how your organization and people communicate. What are the methods? What are the styles? Any nuances? Have conversations about how to talk and communicate. Understand your preferred method and that of the stakeholders you regularly need to communicate with. Second, I would say start working on your network. Safety is increasingly a network-based profession and your ability to solve problems between organizations, adapt to complex problems, and grow as a professional will be related to your network. Third, be open to learning, having your perspective challenged, and developing in new ways. Always take advantage of opportunities to observe work taking place and question curiously to gain new understanding.

Wyatt Bradbury CSP, ASP, CHST, CIT is the HSE Advisor at Hitachi Rail, where he currently manages all HSE expectations on a $400 Million rail project. In this role, he has reworked the site-specific safety plan, managed multiple client and 3rd party audits, and developed an employee orientation program, in addition to working on the organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to Hitachi Rail, Bradbury gained experience at JE Richards, Davis H. Elliott, and HazTek, working on such projects ranging from developing new hire orientation and respirable crystalline silica programs, to projects directed at supporting plant startup operations and drafting safety handbooks. Most importantly, these positions allowed him to develop both his business and soft skills.

In addition to his role with Hitachi Rail, Bradbury is currently working on earning his MEng in Advanced Safety Engineering and Management from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, He is also pursuing Post-Baccalaureate in Safety and Health from Columbia Southern University. Bradbury remains highly active in the EHS community as well, serving as a previous President and current delegate for the National Capitol Chapter of the ASSP, and is the Assistant Regional Vice President for Communications within Region VI. He is also entering his first term on the Education and Training Committee and was one of the first ASSP Community Platforms Influencers. Bradbury also helps plan the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Conference and is on the drafting committee of the PPE Fit Technical Working Group. He is also a member of the Emerging Professionals common interest group.

Bradbury is an active speaker, participating in numerous conferences, webinars, and podcasts, and he enjoys mentoring other young safety professionals. He also enjoys writing, with 5 articles published in the Professional Safety Journal, with two more accepted for future publication.

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.

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