Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Tim Page-Bottorff Discusses How the Marine Corps Helped Shape His EHS Career

In honor of Veteran’s Day, for this installment of Faces of EHS we reached out to Tim Page-Bottorff, the Region II Vice President of the ASSP, CEO of Total Safety Solutions, and a Senior Consultant with SafeStart. Tim served in the U.S. Marine Corps and, as other professionals have also shared with us, his time in the military led him into an environment, health, and safety (EHS) career. Read on to discover how Tim leveraged his experience as a Marine, his thoughts on building a strong safety culture, and how safety pros can embrace errors.

Tim Page-Bottorff HeadshotYou’re a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. How did this background get you started in the environment, health, and safety (EHS) field?

If it weren’t for the Marine Corps, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The Marine Corps prepared me for a life in EHS with both training and experience. I started out in Kuwait learning the ropes regarding firefighting and slowly morphed that experience into training. The Marine Corps sent me to be a trainer for HAZWOPER, confined space, and different levels of rescue. I am glad to admit that I was happy being pigeonholed into being a trainer. It made me who I am today. I also want to thank all the veterans for their service. I owe them a debt of gratitude.

What lessons did you take away from your time in the Marine Corps that have served you most in your EHS career?

Primarily, it is the discipline I am most thankful for. It is discipline that got me through college and discipline to start a business and to keep my word for my customers. I also think that the 24-hour HAZWOPER technician course I was sent to opened my eyes to this profession, and I cannot thank my superiors enough for sending me to that class and the subsequent train-the-trainer.

How has your service as the Region II Vice President for ASSP shaped your approach to “boots on the ground” organizational safety?

My approach to safety is just that: boots on the ground. ASSP has provided mere motivation to keep my approach in front of people. In this position, I get to work with many incredible volunteer leaders who happen to be amazing EHS professionals, too. I take an open mind when engaging with these folks I call friends. I have yet to learn all I can in this profession, and if I am not constantly networking, training, or adding value, I won’t gain nearly enough knowledge that will make me feel whole. I learn while teaching, consulting, and networking. My service with ASSP has provided just that. I am grateful for my time with the society, and I am going to feel like I will be in debt to them for the rest of my career.

Your profile on SafeStart.com lists “Embracing Errors” as one of your speaking topics. We have to ask: What’s one error you’ve made in your time as an EHS pro, and how did you handle it?

 It is so hard to narrow down to just one mistake. I have made many. One that does stand out was a performance error that cost a lot of time and money. As the RVP for ASSP, I was responsible for coordinating a networking party in Dallas, Texas. I thought I signed the contract for Tuesday, but I signed the contract for the event to take place on Monday. The facility called me and said that they were ready for our party and were wondering where we were. I replied that we are there on Tuesday and not Monday. They forwarded the signed contract, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. $3,700 later, I should have been more diligent in reviewing the contract. Luckily, my boss was there, and he said that I don’t typically make these kinds of mistakes, but don’t make a habit of it. Ironically, we are in the shaping habits business. Initially, I panicked, but I kept my composure, and my good friend Jack Jackson was with me, and he told me that everything always works out. And it did. Larry Wilson, my boss, took care of the extra payment, and the location had space for us on Tuesday, so it all worked out.

What’s the most critical factor in building a strong safety culture?

Great question! Culture sometimes gets mixed up in compliance, and a lot of companies use compliance as their sole factor in motivating employees. Compliance does a great job at motivating managers and supervisors but not employees. I think the most critical factor is finding ways to motivate employees and get them engaged, more so than they already are. One specific action that can happen is deploy a robust safety management system that requires employee participation and nurtures the employees’ needs to take care of themselves and their family. A strong focus on safety 24/7 does a great job at this. Remember that the safety switch doesn’t turn off after 8 hours of work. It continues around the clock, as we all care for everyone regardless of where they are.

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

Maintaining a safety cop mentality is a poor approach to safety. Spending time on enforcement or simply intimidating employees into following the rules is happening more and more. We must spend more time being safety friends and less time being safety cops. With the release of ISO 45001 and the Human Factors Framework, there is an emerging trend to focus on workers’ well-being holistically. Like I said earlier, we can focus better on 24/7 safety. I think one of the trends I see is incorporating something like ISO 45001 (system) and integrate it into a congruent people system. I have been calling it collaborative integration. These systems shouldn’t compete with each other; rather, they should complement each other. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is also completing its research on Total Worker Health, and this approach is quickly emerging, as employers are putting human capital on their primary radar as a major focus. Also, be prepared for ISO 45003, as it will complement ISO 45001 with the focus on psychological safety.

COVID-19 continues to have a dramatic impact on businesses, especially on the safety front. What changes, if any, to pre-pandemic best practices would you suggest clients make, given the benefit of hindsight?

Ironic that this is the year 2020. As the old cliché suggests, hindsight is 2020. I will go out on a limb and state that quite a few employers were very nonchalant when it came to housekeeping practices, and that includes sanitation. If COVID-19 gave us something positive, it is just that: better cleanliness and sanitation. This has affected both individuals and employers. Businesses are resilient and will find a way. If they struggle and have to shut down, I feel positive that they will reemerge later stronger and better and perhaps cleaner. Following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines even after COVID-19 has come and gone will help in this regard.

What advice do you have for people, and especially military veterans, who are entering or transitioning into the profession?

I will advocate for anyone entering the profession. There is a pathway for everyone, and that path may be different for those who plan to take the endeavor. If they are thinking about the profession pathway, they should consider first getting certified and carry that certification to the end of their professional EHS career. Certifications could include anything the BCSP offers, like the OHST; the CHST; and, ultimately, the certified safety professional (CSP). The second step is to stay hungry. No, not for food but for knowledge. If there is an opportunity to learn, take it, eat it up, and absorb as much as you can. The third step is to pay back your debt for mentorship. Someone along the way will help, train, guide, and provide connections that will certainly help you progress down your path. The worst thing to do is to not pay it forward. When you get comfortable in your career, think about mentoring someone else. This is important, especially for veterans looking to enter. There will always be people who are interested in what you do. You just haven’t met them yet.

Tim Page-Bottorff’s career in safety began in 1990 when he was a Marine in Operation Desert Storm assisting contractors extinguishing Kuwaiti oil fires. After leaving the military, Tim was named the ASSP Society Wide Safety Professional of the Year in 2018. He also received the National Safety Council’s Distinguished Service to Safety Award (DSSA). Tim is currently the Region II Vice President for ASSP, the CEO of Total Safety Compliance, and a Senior Consultant with the SafeStart team and lectures for Central Washington University.

Tim is focused on providing consultation that collaborates with systems and human factors integration. He instructs for Total Safety Compliance, SafeStart, The OSHA Training Institute at the University of California San Diego, and several other customers globally. He is currently lecturing in the Occupational Health and Safety Management Program at Central Washington University.

Tim is the author of Safety Health and Security in Wastewater Systems and The Core of Four, a motivational book to improve human performance. He has also authored articles for the EHS Daily Advisor, including “5 Signs That Management Isn’t Aligned with Your Safety Culture.”

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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 ehsposts@SimplifyCompliance.com and include your name and contact information; be sure to put “Faces of EHS” in the subject line.