For Rocco Martini, a career in environment, health, and safety (EHS) was a calling to help others, and his passion for continual learning has led him to follow this calling to ever-higher levels in his work as a safety specialist at Shell Polymers. For our latest “Faces of EHS” profile, we sat down with Rocco to discuss the joys and challenges of being a young safety professional, his EHS volunteer work, and why his coworkers call him “the rookie and the vet.”
What led you to pursue a career in the EHS field?
As a young safety professional, this is a question that I get very often. My path to the EHS field started when I was an 18-year-old senior at Central Valley High School in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Back in high school, when I wasn’t in football or baseball season, I would work as a physical therapy (PT) assistant at Jamie’s Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. During that time, I thoroughly enjoyed what the PT field entailed; my favorite part was being able to see patients slowly improve over time until they were healed, and the satisfaction of knowing I had something to do with their recovery was gratifying.
While I kept my options open and explored other opportunities, the field of safety and health management kept coming up, so I decided to take a deeper look into this career field and find out exactly what it entailed. After doing so and discovering that I could make a difference in so many people’s lives and could contribute to healthier employees, I knew EHS was the perfect fit for me; entering a career field where I could help others was something that I desired. I went on to attend Slippery Rock University to study safety management. So, when I get asked this question, my response is always the same: Caring for people is why I chose a career in EHS.
What is the biggest EHS compliance challenge you currently face?
I wouldn’t say we have any big EHS compliance challenges currently, but it’s more of a safety challenge. Currently, our polyethylene plant is being built, and there are over 7,000 employees on-site during the construction phase. As we begin to perform commissioning and start-up activities, we will start mobilizing our operations employees to the site. An industrial construction with several thousand employees can be very hazardous, and there are many simultaneous operations occurring—our big challenge is making sure we mobilize our employees to the site safely, making sure they have a core knowledge of site policy, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, behavioral expectations, and logistics. We will accomplish this through instructor-led training that will provide the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of our EHS team.
You started your safety career in construction but now work in operations/manufacturing. What adjustments did you need to make regarding how you approach safety, and how did you make the transition?
Transiting from construction EHS to operational EHS came with a bit of a learning curve. There is a big difference between working with construction procedures and policies and working in a manufacturing facility. Although our facility is not up and running yet, I have learned a great many things that will propel my future experiences. I love taking on new challenges and thrive off new learnings—I am looking forward to the safe start-up of our new facility and gaining experience in an amazing manufacturing facility.
What do you like the most about your career in EHS, and what is the most difficult or frustrating part of your job?
The things I like most about my job are the relationships I develop. Being in safety, you interface with all levels of the organization, from top management to frontline workers. A lot of times, safety gets a bad rep, and we are looked upon as “safety cops,” but that is the total opposite of what we aim to achieve. We are not trying to get employees in trouble or make an example out of anyone; we are simply trying to protect the safety and well-being of the employees. Building those relationships and gaining trust make this goal more achievable. Our company is one team with many goals, and the goal of safety sits on top.
The most difficult thing for me in this field is my age. Being a young safety and health professional has its pros, but it also comes with a few challenges. Early on in my career working in the construction EHS field, it was sometimes a struggle to receive the respect that I should have. I was 21 years old and trying to coach employees in the field on things they have been doing all their lives, and I totally get why that could be frustrating for them. Time after time, I would get smart remarks or bad attitudes, and it was frustrating, as I was just trying to put the best interests of the employees first. If this ever happens to you as a young professional, keep your head down, and keep working hard because eventually, you will earn the respect you deserve. It took some time, but I slowly gained the respect of the workers, and they saw me for what I was worth. Regardless of your age, always be confident in your knowledge and skills, and always respect everyone—even if the respect is not reciprocated.
You have said that you consider yourself both a rookie and a veteran, with a strong focus on training, mentorship, and safety culture. Could you tell us a little bit more about this and how it drives both your pursuit of professional development and mentorship or coaching of others?
I have been referred to as “the rookie and the vet” by coworkers in the past because I am only 24 years old but have been working full time in the EHS field for several years. I have strong technical skills in health and safety, with key knowledge in emergency response planning, security, and environmental issues. I have brilliant mentors, and that is something that you will often hear me speak a lot about. I also have coworkers and friends who I consider to be my mentees.
The number one driving factor behind my mentoring is a safer workplace. My goal is to develop and guide my mentees to help set them up for success—I am a huge team player, and I want to see not only my company but also the people in it win! I meet monthly with the people I mentor to talk about challenges, set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goals, work on training paths, and answer any questions they may have.
You mentioned that you volunteer EHS services to your local community. What kinds of organizations have you worked with, and what sorts of work and services are you providing for them?
Volunteering my time for the betterment of my community and the people in it is a huge priority for me. A few examples include comanaging a local river cleanup and performing timely EHS audits on local municipal plants. One of my favorite volunteer initiatives was creating and implementing an annual qualification training program for the local sanitary authority. I worked with a small team to develop company policies, computer-based training, a training record retention system, and knowledge exams to verify worker competency. Employees of the authority must participate in this training annually and pass the knowledge exam in order to perform their jobs.
What advice or lessons learned would you share with people who are just entering the EHS field?
Whether you are a young professional just entering the EHS field or you are transitioning from a different field, here are some very beneficial tips and advice I like to offer.
- Be a sponge for information and new learnings. It is important to ask questions when you don’t know something because that is the only way you will learn. Leverage the knowledge and experiences of those around you to make you a better safety professional.
- Mentors, mentors, mentors. I correlate a lot of my success in the EHS field with having great mentors. When choosing a mentor, it’s important to choose one you can trust, who challenges you and supports you, and who is someone in a position in which you can see yourself being one day. Your mentors will help guide you and coach you through tough times and hard decisions in your career. They will also act as good role models and people for you to strive to be like. A good mentor can most certainly jump-start your career and guide you to success.
- Never be afraid to take on new challenges. Taking on new challenges will force you to expand and become a better version of yourself. You will learn many new things by partaking in new or unfamiliar projects.
- Continuous improvement. Make it a priority to constantly improve yourself. Approach situations and challenges with a learning mind-set. Develop a mentality and competitiveness to be the best—always be proud but never satisfied.
- Make a name for yourself. Never be afraid to speak up or contribute when you have new or innovative ideas. Your biggest competition is the person in the mirror, and you must always be confident in your skills and abilities, as well as the value you can add to your company. And, lastly, stay hungry and humble.
|Rocco Martini, CSP, OHST, STS, is a Safety Specialist at Shell Polymers in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Martini possesses strong technical skills in health, safety, security, and environment (HSSE), as well as emergency response planning, which were gained during his 3 years of experience working for Shell at the Pennsylvania Chemicals Project. Martini earned his bachelor’s degree in Safety and Health Management at Slippery Rock University, and he excels in training and developing employees to drive safe work practices and build an unrivaled safety culture. His desire to continuously improve professionally is a core motivational value for him—after recently achieving his Certified Safety Professional (CSP) certification, he now is working toward his master’s degree in business administration (MBA), along with a graduate certificate in environmental management.|
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.