Patrick Karol has been involved in the field of environmental, health, and safety (EHS) for more than 25 years. For our latest “Faces of EHS” profile, we sat down with Patrick to discuss how he got his start in the industry, his biggest influence, as well as his thoughts on trends and best practices for the EHS industry, including how company leaders can make safety a value within their organization. According to Karol, it all starts with making safety personal.
“Whether you are talking to the CEO or a front-line employee, we need to make safety personal to each person. It will look different for each person and each level of the organization. We need to ask, “what is most important to you?” and connecting that to safety. For example, I was meeting with an HR director and found out that she was tasked with improving employee engagement scores. I was able to show her how safety could help engage employees. I connected safety to what she wanted most. That’s making safety personal.”
In our latest Faces of EHS profile, meet Patrick Karol, Co-founder of Nito Solutions, LLC. As an independent safety and health consultant specializing in strategic safety planning, safety leadership workshops, and motivational speaking, Karol helps organizations inspire their employees to build a strong safety culture by making safety personal. According to Karol, the result is a strong, sustainable safety culture.
How did you get your start in the field?
I never had any career aspirations to pursue a safety career. Not even the slightest intention. I was happy being a front-line supervisor. I had a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Georgia State and could eventually see myself moving up the management ranks. That is until safety chose me one cool, fall evening around dusk in 1992. We had a horrific accident that resulted in a serious injury to a worker. I remember thinking all evening “how did that happen?” It was at that point that safety went from something that I tolerated to something that was personal. I realized that I needed to focus on safety, but I didn’t know how other than to preach from my soapbox to “be careful” and handing out disciplinary action when I thought someone was acting unsafe. One year later, the organization established a corporate safety department and I applied. On January 2, 1994, I started my full-time safety career knowing very little about safety. I can say without reservation, I am thankful I did land in the safety profession. Being a safety professional has given me a great sense of purpose and satisfaction in my professional and personal life.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
My first boss, Jim Swartz, was and still is the biggest influence on my career. I worked with him for thirteen years and still apply the lessons I learned. One of those lessons is the ABC rule; Allies Build Careers. No one gets anything of significance done on their own. Whether it’s finding a new job or leading a project at work. It takes allies. Two of my long-time colleagues, Robert Hites and Richard Lindsey, just formed a new partnership, Nito Solutions, LLC. We provide pre-certification workshops for the ASP and CSP certifications. We could not have done it without each other.
What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
This probably occurred twenty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was giving a presentation to a group of managers and relied on someone to have the room and audio/visual equipment ready, and to pick me up. Of course, this person arrived late to pick me up. When we finally arrived at the conference room, the audio/visual equipment wasn’t set up. In short, I kept about 50 managers waiting for 30 minutes. I was embarrassed and it reflected poorly on the safety department. I learned to be prepared, be professional and have a plan B.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
As a former front-line worker and supervisor, I still enjoy talking to front line employees. I particularly enjoy learning about them and what they consider to be most important. Building relationships and connecting safety to what is most important to them is making safety personal. My least favorite; administrative work, usually in the form of documentation. I encourage organizations to reduce the administrative burden especially on supervisors by asking “what is essential to document?” and “how will you use the documented information? Automate where possible. If you are not clear on how you will use the information, then consider eliminating the need to document.
How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?
Manage safety like any other function in the business. Set clear expectations, track meaningful metrics, hold subordinates accountable, recognize progress and react with a sense of urgency to incidents and reported concerns. It’s up to safety professionals to help company leaders understand how safety supports the vision and mission, and ultimately contributes to the organization’s success.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
I see the safety profession being tasked with a broader range of issues. After 9-11 we took on more security tasks. Today we are expected to be well versed in pandemic response. Being flexible and having the ability to quickly pivot will be important characteristics for all safety professionals.
How will safety culture look in the future?
I try not to think specifically about a safety culture, rather how can I integrate safety into the organizational culture and contribute to the business. Markets, industries, and people change, and the safety culture needs to identify these changes and clearly explain how safety can leverage these changes.
What are you most proud of?
A few years ago, I found myself unemployed for the first time since high school. It took about 4-5 weeks to collect my thoughts and begin to figure out what I wanted to do. I used the time between jobs to write a book. “Selling Safety, Lessons from a Former Front Line Supervisor” was published by CRC Press in December 2019. In the book, I share the lessons that I have learned over my entire work career from a front-line employee to supervisor to 25-year safety professional.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Network! Learn how to network and begin now. Network inside your organization and outside. Your next job is likely to come from your network. Most of my jobs as a consultant come from my network. The best way is to get involved. Join your local ASSP chapter and ask how you can help. A network is not the number of connections you have, but how you contribute. Simply sending a personal message with a link to an article is a form of networking. It’s a low cost, high impact activity. Plus, it’s fun getting to know people.