Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Andy Stevenson on the Value of New Experiences

There are those who almost intuitively know what career path they will follow from a young age. Others find their way by getting out in the world and forging their own path, gathering a breadth of experience along the way. In this installment of Faces of EHS, we spoke with Andy Stevenson, an environment, health, and safety specialist at American Aluminum Extrusion, whose pre-EHS experience helps drive his passion to build a positive safety culture at his organization.

Andy Stevenson HeadshotWhat led you to pursue a career in the EHS field?

My first manufacturing job was in Alaska forming insulation for the petroleum pipeline industry. This role included EHS duties, along with a myriad of others. The safety bug didn’t fully sink its teeth in until I was promoted into a role assisting the EHS manager at Ecolab. After time spent as a safety coordinator, I am now in my fourth EHS role, actively contributing, learning, and growing into this diverse and challenging occupation that I love.

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

With continuous improvements being made within and outside of our facility, the adoption of regular job safety analysis reporting is a notable contributor to keeping in compliance, elevating engagement, and maintaining safety at the forefront of workers’ minds. It is always a challenge to get seasoned workers to look at safety in different ways than they have in the past.

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

In the aluminum extrusion business, there are advantages and disadvantages to working with this type of product. Aluminum is a softer metal that is more forgiving, meaning that while you can still get cut on its sharp surfaces, it does not have that razor-sharpness that other metals such as steel can possess. However, when aluminum is heated up to high temperatures, it does not change color to indicate its temperature, leading to a greater risk of burns.

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

The skills, tasks, and duties that are critical to the role provide limitless opportunities to keep you continuously growing and improving at everything you do. I have become a lifelong learner and eagerly absorb relevant information that can expand my knowledge and capabilities.

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

It can be discouraging to have injuries arise after frequent successes in minimizing them. At times, it can appear that all of your efforts were in vain. However, I like to think of all the incidents I may have prevented because of those efforts. All you can do is keep moving forward in the quest for zero injuries.

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

I see that technology is having a helpful and positive effect on many EHS roles. Software solutions simplify tracking and reporting results, enabling these professionals to save time and money while increasing reaction time. Having alternative options for training such as tablets and mobile devices, along with condensed microlearning lessons, increases the effectiveness and timeliness of compliance modules.

Initially, there were some negative effects on the profession with the arrival of COVID-19, such as EHS layoffs around the country as companies tightened their belts. That view has reversed in many areas, with businesses realizing the need for EHS roles to help combat and control the spread throughout their facilities.

COVID-19 continues to have a dramatic impact on businesses of all shapes and sizes. Do you feel that your organization was well-prepared for the challenges posed by the pandemic?

I don’t feel that any business was well-prepared for the pandemic. That being said, our plant reacted swiftly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) best practices and guidelines and continues to monitor and reflect changes as they occur.

Given the benefit of hindsight, what changes to safety practice and culture would you make at your organization to minimize the impacts of another pandemic or a similar event?

I don’t think there is anything I would change other than full implementation at the beginning. Knowing what we know now, we would be able to put into practice all of the precautions upfront rather than after they were discussed throughout industries and suggested by the CDC.

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

I have always said that English is my second language—sarcasm is my first! Over the years, I have developed a “theory” that I am developing into a blog/website: https://thephysicsofcommonsense.wordpress.com/. I have also secured the domain www.thephysicsofcommonsense.com/, where I plan to create safety-related content and stories. This post shows how this creation came to be:

My “theory” of Common Sense

As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence for what I’m about to claim. This is just what I’ve been thinking.

I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve been in a biology class, but do you remember how there are 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up our genetic information? The 23rd pair are the X and the Y that determine our sex, male and female.

I strongly believe, in fact I am firmly convinced, that somewhere in those 23 chromosomes lies the common sense gene. Everybody has one. However, for some people, the common sense gene just stopped growing. It never bloomed.

You know what I mean. You’ve seen them. Those certain people that do things so incredibly ridiculous that you end up shaking your head in disbelief.

That’s it. People that display a lack of common sense—it’s not really their fault. The gene didn’t bloom.

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

Be willing to learn. You may know a lot, but no one will ever know everything. Being a lifelong learner opens many opportunities to grow in this profession. Ask workers about their jobs, and listen carefully. The ability to see things from other viewpoints is tremendously helpful in gaining new perspectives and building relationships.

Andy Stevenson is an EHS specialist with many years of progressive experience in leadership roles, including industrial manufacturing, operations, sales and consulting, merchandising, and inventory control. Prior to his current role as an EHS Specialist at American Aluminum Extrusion, Stevenson wore his EHS hat at Alaska Insulation Supply, Ecolab, and Charter NEX Films. He has used these experiences to broaden the scope of his knowledge in various aspects of environmental concerns, health matters, and the immense world of safety. Stevenson’s approach to safety places building relationships at its core, utilizing real-world examples while inserting humor and fun into learning situations. In his free time, he enjoys listening industry-specific and other relevant podcasts and reading books ranging from leadership and safety to psychology.

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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.