Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Matt McDaniel Talks the Importance of Daily Challenges

Matt McDaniel got his start in the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) field as a front-line worker on a packaging line. With a college degree in Elementary and Middle Level Education, he wasn’t prepared to work in a food manufacturing facility.

Matt McDaniel

“My first six months on the floor training and learning from experienced operators was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had,” McDaniel recalls. “Over the next four years I became good at my job and was content with punching a time clock each day.”

Year after year, he watched hazards go unchanged. Finally, McDaniels sought another opportunity and decided to find a position where he could help change this. Shortly after, he landed an entry-level position on the EHS team at Mom’s Meals Company, a national provider of nutrition solutions and home-delivered meals. Twelve years later, coupled with an unmatched passion for EHS, McDaniels has worked his way up to Corporate EHS Manager at Mom’s Meals.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Taiichi Ohno and W. Edwards Deming are two people whose work has greatly influenced my approach to reducing loss exposure and increasing regulatory compliance. Most people are faced with challenges each day. Daily challenges are ones where it’s in our best interest to find the most efficient way possible to make our lives easier. Using their methods has helped groups of individuals break through their individual needs and see the overall group goal.

What is your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

My approach when asking for improvements or repairs to be made. The mistake I made was not identifying the root cause to the problem with a group of individuals. Those early rejections showed me what not to do and led me to Ohno and Deming. Their systems and frameworks helped me pinpoint cause(s) and then facilitate a meeting to get a group’s consensus on solving them.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?

I enjoy the complexity and the continuous improvement. One day I can be training new hires or interacting with team members on the production floor. The next day I can be on a virtual meeting reviewing plan drawings for a new facility or equipment we are building.

Keeping up regulatory updates at various levels such as Federal, State, Consensus Standards, Manufacturer, and locally. We’re able to manage this process by clearly identifying our regulatory requirements based off our people, processes, and equipment. Then it’s a matter of reminding yourself to routinely check on updates.

How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

Start by building reporting structures for injuries, collisions, environmental releases, etc. Then develop communications to share learnings and corrective actions. The key is to reach as many team members with these communications as possible. We use an incident form to kick-off our process and finish with a summary complete with details, images, root cause(s), and corrective actions.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years?

Equipment automation is an area I’m actively participating in as our team continues to grow. I run into issues with manufacturer’s understanding the regulatory requirements. With the various options for safety guards today, I can see additional language being added to standards clarifying the roles between machine safety and lockout/tagout.

What are you most proud of?

I’ve spent three or more years finding a solution to free up more time to be spent out on the production floor and not managing the paperwork created by a safety management system. If you perform a time study on your work week you will see how this balance of time shakes out. Today, we allocate approximately one hour each day to documentation. The rest of our day is spent on activities which will help prevent injuries and develop our team members EHS awareness. Why have a handful of safety professionals when you can have an entire facility?

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Work the jobs of the front-line team members that you will be supporting. This will give you a new perspective that you would not otherwise get from observations. The information you will get from these experiences will, without question, set you up for success.