Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Scott Gerard Talks the Importance of Helping People and Safety From the Very Beginning

Although Scott Gerard started in the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) field as a fire medic, it was his continued interest in film that put him on the path he walks today. Gerard studied film and theater in undergrad and those skills came in hand when a friend who worked at GE Plastics asked if he would produce a series of custom industrial safety videos.

Scott Gerard

According to Gerard, that was the turning point for him. “To effectively put the videos together I needed to learn the actual safety procedures,” he shared with EHS Daily Advisor. “It was at that moment I saw that I could either continue down the path as a fire medic and help people by responding to accidents after they happened, or I could get in front of the event and be responsible for helping prevent them from happening in the first place. As I became a subject-matter expert in petrochemical safety through the production of these videos, I realized I wanted to do more of the latter and help develop safety programs myself.”

Gerard would go on to help companies in a myriad of industries – including aviation, manufacturing, transportation, and construction – before joining Moss Construction as VP of Environmental, Health, and Safety. In his role, Gerard provides strategic development and implementation of all environmental, health, safety, and security procedures for projects in the United States, Caribbean and the Bahamas for the national construction management company.

“When I first joined, Moss was about a year old and was an up-and-coming construction company that needed someone to help create their safety program from the ground up,” Gerard recalls. “It was a really exciting opportunity for me. I got to nurture the safety culture and set the tone from the very beginning. One of my first projects at Moss was to work with our operations group to write the company’s safety policies, procedures, and programs that are still in place today. Being a good business partner to the boots on the ground is a key component to a healthy, sustainable safety culture.”

In our latest Faces of EHS profile, meet Scott Gerard.

Here’s what he had to say.

Who is / was your biggest influence in the industry?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked alongside numerous talented safety professionals over the years, but there’s one individual who sticks out. In fact, I often repeat the advice he shared with me to new safety team members during onboarding at Moss. He was a superintendent at a sprinkler contractor that we worked with, and he used to stop by my office occasionally to say hello. One day during one of his many visits, he asked me, “Why are you always so upset?”

Anyone in safety, especially in construction, understands the difficulty of getting workers to follow safety procedures 100 percent of the time. It’s really not realistic – we’re human, after all, and we take shortcuts and stray from the rules – but as leaders in safety, we have to keep trying anyway. Unfortunately, those unrealistic expectations can sometimes turn into frustration, especially for me, because I wanted so badly to keep everyone safe and send them home to their families at the end of every workday.

After explaining this to him, he looked at me and said, “You know, I’m a religious man, and let me just say that even our Lord couldn’t save everyone. So why don’t you focus on saving one person instead?”

And that really resonated with me. It’s still a philosophy I live by today. We want everyone to be safe, but if you can influence one person each day and that person influence another person tomorrow, that compounding effect will soon turn into a community of influencers helping keep each other safe.

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

Early on in my career, I spent a lot of time looking for people who weren’t following procedures correctly so that I could call them out and make an example of them. It’s how I believed I’d influence others to avoid making mistakes. Yet that was a mistake in and of itself. To become a great leader, you need to have compassion and empathy for your team and create an environment that allows them to succeed.

An example of this, I had just taken over as VP of Safety at Moss, and a project manager at one of our sites called me with a problem. My initial response was to reprimand him for not following procedure, but he quickly reminded me that he wasn’t calling to discuss procedure – he was calling for my help.

That was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I wasn’t being supportive when they needed me the most. The event had already happened, and the only thing I could do was make sure the outcome, from that point forawd, was the best it possibly could be. We could review the procedure later on once the situation was resolved. Then identify where the system broke down and fix it so it doesn’t happen again.

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

It’s that moment when someone connects the safety procedures you’ve put in place with the impact it has on their life. They stop looking at your job as a hindrance and instead view it in a positive way. As something that will prevent them from being seriously injured or maimed or worse. That makes everything I do worth it.

How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization? Please tie in how you “built a culture of safety (at Moss) by making sure both the safety team and frontline workers shared the same physical space and worked together.”

At Moss, we think of safety as more than just a priority—we think of it as a value. That’s a very important distinction. Values are core to your being, and they never change, whereas priorities do. So rather than make safety a top priority in your organization, which may change from day to day, make safety a part of your culture and a part of your organization’s values. Embed it in everything you do. It can’t be a standalone department solely responsible for driving safe work.

For example, at Moss, we involved our entire workforce in charting the course of safety for our organization. We changed our way of thinking from “safety” to “working safely” and integrated it into our daily operations. Before, by referring to safety as a thing, it ended up feeling like a separate part of the process. But when we started thinking about working safely instead, it was a transformational moment for us and got everyone in the organization excited to be involved.

What would you say is your biggest success?

It was in 2018, and Moss had just implemented a new emergency communication software solution, AlertMedia. Before AlertMedia, we relied on traditional email to communicate with employees about critical events and severe weather like hurricanes. But email is one-way and non-interactive, an aspect we realized would no longer work for us during an active shooter scenario at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport the year prior. We had about 300-400 construction workers on a job site at the airport that day with no way to check on their status. After that, we knew we needed a better solution for connecting with people during emergencies.

Not long after we partnered with AlertMedia, Hurricane Lane, a Category 4 hurricane, threatened to make landfall in Hawaii, where we had an office. The Hawaiian Islands don’t typically experience hurricanes, so to stay true to one of our core values that guide our company culture, “Honor Relationships”, we started to send out communications to our Hawaii team to make sure they knew how to prepare for the storm in advance.

One of the last two-way messages we sent to the team about three hours before the storm was supposed to hit included a survey notification to confirm their storm readiness. It included three response options, including the option to confirm they were safe, a second response option that allowed team members to signal they needed help, and a third response that shared that they weren’t on the island. As a result, we were able to rapidly identify four employees that felt they were ill-prepared for the storm and immediately got them and their families escorted to a safe location.

Had we not used AlertMedia, we would not have been able to take care of those people. While fortunately, Hurricane Lane did not end up making landfall, we still believe safety is about more than a set of rules and procedures. This means caring about the health, safety, and well-being of our team members and their families at all times, and that’s what AlertMedia allowed us to achieve that week.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or seeing any current trends?

There’re a few trends that I would like to share. First, we’re in the age of Big Data. It’s becoming easier to collect, aggregate, and dissect safety data. I believe that tucked away in all this data are the answers to creating a safer workplace. Leading indicators, such as unsafe conditions and behavior, as well as catches/near misses, are valuable tools. We use Intelex’s integrated EHSQ platform to evaluate all the data, in its entirety.  When you include loss data from safety related excursions you’re able to understand which jobs have higher risks, and adjust your focus, and your policies and procedures in response. All this results into a safety culture that is inclusive, predictive and proactive versus merely responsive.

Second, safety leaders will need to be able to quickly and effectively communicate that data out to stakeholders. Communication is one of the most important components of any safety plan, and we’re going to see more companies look to software to help them better communicate their EHS messaging in a more effective and timely manner. At Moss, we leverage AlertMedia to share the appropriate information and resources to help them stay safe and protect the environment.

Lastly, telemedicine is going to become an even bigger part of a construction company’s EHS portfolio. No matter how hard you try, injuries can sometimes occur.  At Moss we partner with a unique telemedical provider originally conceived to work with our industry, JobSiteCare. Our workers know that should they get injured, they immediately get access to world class medical care on the spot. The team at JSC works with them throughout the course of their injury. JSC helps us with our number one core value, Honor Relationships – care about the safety, well-being and success of our families and business partners. It’s just one more way they know Moss is a great place to work.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

You must have a servant’s heart to succeed in this field. You have to care about people, about the human condition, and about their families. Whenever I’m out in the field, and I see someone doing something wrong, I have a conversation with them about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what the potential impact would be if they get hurt or worse. They may never get to see their family again. The technical part of the job you can learn. OSHA has printed thousands of pages of standards, and if you have questions on a certain procedure, you can look it up in a book. That’s the easy part. But knowing how to motivate others to do the right thing to stay safe is the tough part. You really have to want to help people.