Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Michael Miozza on the Recipe for a Sustainable Safety Culture

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a successful and sustainable environmental, health, and safety (EHS) program. However, according to Michael Miozza, an EHS Manager with mutual insurance company FM Global, there are a few key ingredients that every chef, excuse me, EHS professional should utilize to help build their organization’s safety program and culture.

Mike Miozza headshotWhat led you to pursue a career in the EHS field?

The field of EHS was not a career path I actively went after in my career journey. I had no desire or plan to get into the profession and I really wanted to be either a detective, an astronaut, or a professional baseball player. And while I never envisioned becoming an EHS professional, somehow it happened. A rare opportunity developed for me to enter this line of work. I accepted this break and with great mentors, I essentially learned EHS on the job and taught myself best practices by attending every internal and external training session I possibly could. I have had a gratifying 27-year career in safety and the profession has afforded me a nice living.

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

I have found that at any organization where I have been employed, compliance challenges are easier to manage when you build relationships, get management buy in, actively engage employees, invest in safety, provide formal training, effectively communicate across the organization, investigate all incidents no matter the severity, regularly inspect the workplace, measure desired results, reward performance and simply hold people accountable. That is the recipe. Safety does not have to be difficult!

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

I support the Construction division in our organization. It is important that we have contractors on our job sites who follow sound safety practices. A strong contractor safety program is a valuable tool to access the contractor’s ability to perform safely on your jobsite. Part of that program is prequalification. Whether managed by a third-party service or achieved by an internal process, prequalification of the contractor allows you to verify that they follow recognized safety standards. It is simply a way of gathering and assessing information about interested subcontractors to determine that contractor’s capacity to complete the job, by considering experience and identifying signs of safety and financial risk. I have found that screening for high incident rates and reviewing their safety processes and practices helps the company avoid contracts with high-risk contractors, reduces our liability and insurance claims, and creates much safer work sites.

You mentioned that “a good safety culture is very much like a good meal,” relying on the “right combination of ingredients.” What do you think are the key ingredients of good safety culture?

Yes, a good safety culture is the combination of the right ingredients, though those ingredients may be different for each organization. If I had to pick one key ingredient to be the foundation of a good safety culture, I would say that engaged leaders are especially important. An engaged leader, much like a gourmet chef, can blend other key ingredients, such as accountability and trust, which then drive employee engagement in the safety culture.

Safety is about accountability. And without accountability, I think there is no safety. The enforcement of safety procedures and practices is a key ingredient of any organizations culture.

I have learned that an organization is a community and that an organization can only enhance safety through partnerships, specifically those with its employees. It is especially important to involve employees in the culture to establish trust. You build trust through meaningful communication and employee engaged involvement.

Additionally, an organization must not only invest money and time in the safety culture, but they must also integrate safety with other organizational core values such as production, quality, and human resources. It is my experience that practicing EHS in a silo simply does not work.

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

The thing I like most about my career in EHS is knowing that in some small way, I have contributed and affected positive change in the organizations I have worked in. I feel I have “left my fingerprints” at each organization. I can tell you the good days far outweigh the not so good days.

The EHS field is expansive. Safety encompasses many of the sciences, has a legal and regulatory component, requires patience, balance, and compromise, and while it can be frustrating at times, it has most certainly been a rewarding career. I have dedicated my life to prevent injuries and to save people lives and even in the difficult times I know I have made a difference and made the workplace a safer place. There is no greater achievement for an EHS professional than helping people care as much about safety as they do.

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

Resistance to change in an organization is natural. Sometimes it can be difficult to affect change, but you must preserve, and you must find a way to get over the wall. Always try to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people even when you do not see eye-to-eye. My best advice for people just entering or transitioning into the EHS profession is try not to take or make things personal. Compromise where you can and dig in where you must.

What long term impacts do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will have on how safety culture is practiced?

When we turned the calendar to 2020, I think it is fair to say that many of us did not see the current situation. As EHS professionals we are accustomed to dealing with crises of all kinds, but COVID-19 is like no other. This global pandemic knows no boundaries. I believe this unprecedented pandemic has forever changed us and the EHS profession.

As I mentioned earlier, an organization is a community and safety can only be enhanced through partnerships. A handshake is a symbol of good will, trust, and helps built partnerships. This new world is a world where there will be no handshakes and no hugs. It is a world where people will not meet unless they all are wearing face coverings and standing 6 feet apart. We must learn to work together regardless of the barrier of physical distance. Enhancing your organizations’ safety culture in this new world will be challenging but certainly not impossible.

It is important that people are adaptable, and patient with each other during this pandemic. Remember—while we all may be going through this together—people have different life stressors and we do not all filter, process, or react to things in the same way. So, a little kindness, a little understanding, and a little respect will go a long way during this trying time.

I think one of the long-term positive impacts that will come from the pandemic is that people will accept and appreciate personal protective equipment and, in the end, more people will know what the acronym “PPE” means. Some may even appreciate the struggle safety professionals face when they need to become a “safety cop” and enforce compliance for wearing the required PPE.

One thing that has happened and I hope it continues after the pandemic is behind us, is getting EHS professionals before the executive management teams. These leaders are looking toward the safety profession for answers on how to safely protect the employees. That is a positive development. There is much more visibility of the EHS profession to executive management.

We are living in an interesting new era of virtual connection, learning new ways to do our jobs and forging paths we never imagined. The value of our profession is being strengthened as we navigate these challenging times.

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

When I first started in safety, I was solely responsible for safety. In time, I was given environmental responsibilities and that has been true of all the organizations I have worked in throughout my career. I would tell people entering the EHS field today, to ensure they are well-rounded by taking as many varied EHS courses as possible because I believe it will serve them well in their career. Never stop learning.

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

My favorite job-related story is that over the course of my EHS career I have been extremely fortunate to mentor some exceptional individuals who have went on to have phenomenally successful careers in safety and business. Nothing is more rewarding to nature the creativity of young people and watch them take flight. Fully share your EHS knowledge and experiences with others. You are helping develop the EHS leaders of the future.

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

As an EHS professional it is your responsibility to make safety a company priority by effectively promoting the function using influence, spreading enthusiasm and by using all the essential skills you have garnered. Be patient. There is no one-size-fits all approach or quick fixes to improving a safety culture.  It takes time.

Safety is about leadership. Organizational leaders may not always realize that the safety performance of the organization is explicitly their responsibility. Guide them with both your words and actions. Also understand that safety is a “continuous improvement” of process and methods, so it is a continuing activity to improve safety culture and reduce workplace injuries.

I have found EHS to be a rewarding profession. We never know how many injuries our actions prevent or lives we save. It has been said that safety is the measure of failures—the number of incidents, the lost time incident rate or the experience modification rating. In many organizations’ safety professionals are generally judged on these negative outcomes. If there is one thing, I have learned is that you alone cannot achieve company-wide safety success. Everyone in the organization needs to shoulder responsibility for the organizational safety culture.

And do not forget to have fun along the way. Keep your safety training fun, fresh, and fascinating, while still conveying the important safety message. Take care of yourself and your family during this extraordinary global pandemic.

Michael Miozza, CSP, CPEA, CSHM, has more than 25 years of experience in environmental health & safety (EHS), loss control and risk management – with special expertise in manufacturing practices and procedures. He has expertise in health and safety surveys/audits, hazard recognition and risk assessments, loss control, EHS compliance and training. Miozza is currently an EHS Manager with FM Global, where he oversees the health and wellness of more than 500 employees in more than 30 facilities across 4 states.

FM Global, is a mutual insurance company whose capital, scientific research capability and engineering expertise are solely dedicated to property risk management and the resilience of its client-owners. These owners share the belief that the majority of property loss is preventable and work with FM Global to better understand the key property hazards that can impact their business continuity to make cost effective risk management decisions combining property loss prevention with insurance protection.

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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.