Environment, health, and safety (EHS) professionals understand that, at a base level, being successful means getting everyone home safe at the end of the day. However, long-term success often involves building engagement in an EHS program from stakeholders at all levels, while adapting to new challenges as they arise, often on the fly! For today’s installment of Faces of EHS we connected with Jenna Laube, an EHS manager at Textron Systems, who has learned from her background, first in the military and then through positions in both the private and public sectors, that meeting today’s challenges requires more than just a knowledge of regulations.
What led you to pursue a career in the environment, health, and safety (EHS) field?
Though I’m currently an EHS manager, I didn’t actively pursue it. My background is environmental engineering, and I never really had EHS on my radar. I began my career with the U.S. Army Environmental Command, providing support to the Installation Restoration Program and Military Munitions Response Program. I then switched to the private sector, where I designed remediation systems at Groundwater & Environmental Services (GES) for about a decade before returning to a Department of Defense-related role. Textron Systems is a leading defense contractor, and I was hired on as an environmental subject matter expert within the EHS department. I was promoted to EHS manager this year, and here we are! My focus and passion have always been the “E” part of EHS, and fortunately, my time in the private sector was spent consulting for companies with world-class safety programs, which set me up for success in my new position. As it turns out, I already knew a ton of OSHA regulations and health and safety best practices, simply because it was so ingrained in our work culture at GES.
At GES, every employee, regardless of role, was expected to understand and participate in near misses, job safety analyses, health and safety plans, and (correctly implemented) behavior-based safety programs. All employees were first aid- and CPR-certified and attended monthly safety meetings, during which we discussed metrics, a safety topic of the month, and lessons learned. Heinrich’s Pyramid? I can recite the concept in my sleep. When I was promoted at Textron Systems, I quickly realized that I already spoke the language and knew what good looked like from an occupational health and safety point of view. I’ve been able to use that experience to maintain our great EHS programs, seek out continuous improvement opportunities, and actively champion world-class safety. When companies truly integrate safety into their operations and communicate its importance in the workplace, it becomes second nature—and that’s what good looks like.
Are there any EHS challenges unique to the work you do that could prove instructive to other EHS professionals?
From a hazard standpoint, we do some chrome work—but that’s a challenge for many industries and we use the hierarchy of controls to address that, so it’s pretty straightforward.
As a general challenge for our EHS department, our manufacturing outputs are pretty high-mix, low-volume. These military products are incredibly technical, with very low tolerances and little room for quality variance, so our production processes are precise, and we’re constantly conducting tests. This means the EHS department could be doing a risk assessment for a newly developed pole destruction test one minute and looking at storage for a new chemical the next. It keeps us on our toes, but we also maintain an extreme level of pride supporting our programs—we even have products being sent to Mars.
Do you have any tips for midcareer EHS professionals looking to make the leap from the public to the private sector or vice versa?
If an exciting opportunity presents itself and your only hang-up is that it could feel different, don’t worry about that. At the end of the day, the goal is always to protect human health and the environment. In the public sector, you have a lot of rigor and requirements that guide this, and for me, it was the same in the private sector because my clients were mostly in the oil and gas and construction industries. Both industries have created robust EHS programs over the past few decades, so they had the same, if not stricter, protocols.
Your current organization, Textron Systems, bills itself as a midsize company with the agility of a small business and operates across several related industries, with locations across the globe. What kinds of EHS challenges does this structure pose, and how have you managed them?
With a lot of long hours! Our EHS team really puts in work. We span the globe when it comes to support—we have field service teams in theater with our soldiers, and they can have injuries or EHS issues day or night. And this is in addition to my team’s Maryland hub and the other associated U.S. sites we support, with the high-mix, low-volume manufacturing and testing I mentioned earlier. We informally touch base with these groups regularly, and we send official EHS communications to thousands of employees monthly and all of our leaders weekly. This helps us stay connected and allows us to share proactive reminders or lessons learned after an incident, whether it resulted in an injury or not. As with any career field, communication is key.
What do you like the most about your career in EHS?
I’ve always been a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fanatic, so anything that involves math and science—like our exposure assessments, environmental monitoring and sampling, and some of the risk analyses—is the most exciting for me. It’s also cool getting to support everything the company does; you get to meet just about every employee and get access to all the cutting-edge products and programs.
What is the most difficult or frustrating part of your job?
It’s a universal challenge: employee engagement and leadership commitment. It’s one thing to support safety, and it’s another to be committed to it. We have a large company with multiple levels of leadership, so naturally, we have varying degrees of safety knowledge and commitment. We’re continuously working on this through education and reinforcement of our core values. Some days, you feel accomplished and valued; some days, you feel like you’re trying to squeeze water from a stone.
What do you see as the main emerging trends, both positive and negative, affecting the future of the EHS profession?
Well, of course I’m going to pick an environmental answer: climate change. This issue is finally starting to get the breadth of attention it needs in the United States, and regulatory changes will require a lot of pivoting.
What’s your favorite job-related story that you like to tell others?
This is a tough one—lots to choose from. I’ll go with a relatively recent one. Last year, we challenged our employees to come up with storm drain art designs and explained what happens to debris when it enters these systems. I didn’t think it was a particularly exciting project because the campaign didn’t use any of my engineering skills. However, I later had an employee pull me aside and tell me he’d been out walking with his granddaughter over the weekend and that he stopped at a grate and started telling her what he’d learned about storm drain systems, how important it is to protect them, and that he was part of a challenge at work to raise awareness about pollution prevention. He shared with me how surprised he was, as he normally wouldn’t have even noticed the storm drains, but he was really proud of his new knowledge and that he could pass it on to his grandkids. That really got me.
Oh, and here’s a fun one: I had a drill rig in Bermuda we were moving across “grass,” and suddenly, a sinkhole opened up, and half the tires were dangling in open air. We all peered into the 10-to-15-foot hole and started risk assessing. Someone realized there was enough ground at the front to keep moving, and the operator magically drove it on forward. As a result, we started doing a lot more ground penetrating radar (GPR) sweeps after that.
What advice do you have for people just entering the profession?
Ask as many questions as you can, and remember that you’re not the job expert. You may be trained in hazard recognition and mitigation, but you don’t know the tools and job steps the way your workers do. Rely on the people doing the task to walk you through it and help you identify risks. Working together is far more effective than running around with a perceived or real chip on your shoulder.
|Jenna Laube an Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) Manager with Textron Systems, drives organizational excellence in the areas of occupational health and safety and environmental engineering. Her chief responsibility is overseeing the health and wellness of more than 1,500 employees in 36 facilities across 24 states. This includes risk analysis and control, compliance, training programs, communication of relevant metrics, and championing a strong safety and environmental culture. Laube is a licensed professional engineer in five states and sits on both the Textron Corporate EHS Council and the Textron Corporate Sustainability Steering committee.
Textron Systems is a world leader in unmanned air, surface, and land products; services; and support for aerospace and defense customers. Harnessing agility and a broad base of expertise, Textron Systems’ innovative businesses design, manufacture, field, and support comprehensive solutions that expand customer capabilities and deliver value.
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 ehsposts@SimplifyCompliance.com and include your name and contact information; be sure to put “Faces of EHS” in the subject line.