When Megan Kirby joined Iowa-based Quaker Oats as a frontline Oat Supply Operator in 2010, she didn’t have any prior experience in the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) field. Shortly thereafter, Kirby was tapped to lead her third shift’s team safety initiatives. It was this role that ignited her passion for the industry as well as improving the health and safety of others in manufacturing.
A decade later, Kirby is now Regional Environment Health Safety Manager at Mom’s Meals, which provides fully prepared, refrigerated meals directly to homes nationwide. Kirby supports the Ankeny, Iowa-based company’s four fulfillment centers and logistics team.
In our latest “Faces of EHS” profile, meet Megan Kirby.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
I think great leaders in any industry are those who seek to better their team and, in any situation, always seek to understand. Many of my influencers have been individuals of few words and have great listening skills. One individual specifically is Dan Whitaker, he led a large group of warehouse and distribution operation across the United States. He always listened before he spoke and kept things simple. He valued his team’s skills and the ideas of his team members. He also provided guardrails and broke down barriers to help ensure the success of his team.
What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
The best mistake I made was thankfully early on in my career. We were getting ready to roll out a new policy and the way I approached the implementation of that policy was less than successful. I didn’t take the time to listen to the broader team, specifically the frontline associates. This resulted in a very heated conversation with one of our mechanics and I fully understood the importance of having buy-in at all levels. I think about this mistake quite often and it helps keep me on track.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
My favorite part about working in EHS is the people and helping my associates make their health and safety priority over everything else. Training and connecting with my frontline associates are some of my favorite things to do. Making those personal connections is so important to the influences we can have on their careers and ensuring their health and safety. My least favorite part about the EHS function is the amount of administrative work that can be required at times. With advancements in technology this is getting better. It will never completely go away, and I understand the importance, but technology will continue to help this.
How can company leaders make EHS a value within their organization?
Company leaders can help make EHS a value/priority in their organization by first making it one of their own priorities. Get involved in safety inspections, start your meetings with safety and look for ways to communicate the company’s safety goals and the progress being made towards those goals. When your people see that this is one of your priorities, they will start making it their priority as well.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or seeing any current trends?
I see technology in EHS continuing to grow and advancing in the next five years. Not only technology in reporting and documentation processes, but also in equipment. In general, the industry is getting better at reducing the workers exposure to hazardous machinery, but we still have a long way to go. As EHS professionals, it is still our job to educate and guide our production leaders and the equipment manufactures on regulations and their roles to ensure all of our equipment meet those regulations.
What are you most proud of?
I believe that one of my greatest achievements so far has been the number of people I have had an impact on throughout my career. Today, I have leaders and frontline associates with whom I have worked with in past EHS roles that reach out seeking guidance. By them reaching out and entrusting me with providing them guidance, I know that I have helped them prioritize safety that will in turn help reduce loss.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Be patient and listen. We can’t control everything, but we can have an impact on everything. As EHS professionals, we are here to support and guide, not control. Also, always get that buy in!