Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Christina Roll on the Evolving Aspects of Safety Culture

Christina Roll has nearly two decades of experience in worker safety and health hazard identification, evaluation, mitigation, and control. She has developed a unique skillset in her career, starting with safety, occupational health, and environmental consulting. Then, she moved into safety management and leadership with the U.S. Marine Corps, and for the last nine years, she’s been a risk engineer and risk consultant with large insurance carriers.

Currently, Christina is a worker safety risk consultant at AXA XL, a division of AXA Group, which provides insurance coverages for mid-sized to large multinational companies, underwriting complex and emerging risks in both primary coverage and reinsurance policies. She works with clients in a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, hospitality, finance, and retail, to help identify and mitigate business and operational risks.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Christina to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, as well as her thoughts on safety culture in the EHS industry.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

I attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) as a Chemistry major and knew that while I didn’t want to teach or be in a lab, I wanted to help prevent chemicals from hurting people and the environment. My advisor directed me to the Safety Sciences department, and when I attended the “Intro to Safety” course, my first thought was, “There are real jobs to tell people they need to wear a hard hat on a construction site?!?” I eventually changed my major to Safety Sciences, loving the classes and being excited about the opportunities in the field. I knew I found my career path and I’ve never regretted it once.

Q: Who have been your biggest influences in the industry?

My first was my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Drees. He would tell stories of his time working in the railroad industry and how he would have to clean up chemical spills due to accidents that occurred. The thought of chemicals hurting the environment just made me angry, but the fact that there were jobs out there where they could help prevent that sunk in and influenced me to change my major from music to chemistry going into college.

Then in college, one of my professors, Dr. Laura Rhodes, helped me in so many ways. As a female in the industry, who not only taught but also had a consulting company and was actively working in the field, her insights and perspectives were invaluable. To this day she is still someone I can learn from. I’m proud and blessed to call her a friend as well.

Professionally, one of my biggest influences was my regional manager at Chubb, Betty Boudreaux. I learned so much from her during my time there, from work accountability to improving communication to how to lead a team. Watching how she spoke to people, encouraged others in good times and bad, and was a voice of calm and reason when things seemed out of control, all taught me how to be better in my job and in life.

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

Walk the walk and talk the talk. Be involved with the overall programs by setting KPIs and holding staff accountable. Have safety be integrated into every part of the organization, from performance reviews of managers to solid budget items allocated every year. Give safety professionals the authority to hold others accountable and the resources they need to do that. Be visible to employees following safety rules and being involved in safety meetings. The only way safety is seen as a value is if it’s actually taken as one, and that must happen at all levels of leadership.

Q: Where do you see the industry heading in the future? Are you seeing any current trends?

I think as a profession we are going to continue seeing some things that have come out of the pandemic but will be our “new normal” in the workplace. One is remote work and working from home. Even though sales, office, or engineering teams may work outside our facilities, they are still our employees and need to be cared for as such. Coming up with solutions to ensure they have proper equipment, training and support will be critical. Another is our virtual meeting options. Yes, in-person collaboration is important, and for some situations it is the best thing to do. But having a virtual meeting to review statistics, reports, etc., can be much more beneficial and profitable.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?

Safety professionals have so much on our plates, and the pandemic added one more item to the list when we were looked to for help, advice, and implementation of protocols. It was our time to shine and there are many that did just that. But I feel in some organizations, this may have brought to light the lack of resources safety professionals need to complete their jobs. Additionally, some safety pros were not considered a key and/or essential resource by their companies and found themselves out of work due to cutbacks and layoffs. In my opinion, that means safety wasn’t considered essential, and I think we can all agree that when management doesn’t feel safety is essential, there are fundamental issues within that organization.

One of the biggest things I feel the pandemic did was bring to light the topic of Total Worker Health, and the importance it should be given within the safety culture of an organization. We’ve all heard the reports and read the articles highlighting all the stress our society has been under during the pandemic: financial, social, mental, physical; and not just for ourselves but for our loved ones. When our employees are walking into work and have all these things on their mind, unfortunately safety protocols for their job can be forgotten because they just don’t have the mental capacity to do the job correctly, or sometimes at all.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

One of the things that defines a culture is that is different and unique from another one. The safety culture for one company can’t be the same as another; a successful culture for Company A could be a complete failure in Company Z and vice versa. While I believe there are key items that every safety culture should have, at the end of the day the safety culture for an organization should be unique and formed to be influential, effective, and hopefully long-lasting, for that organization alone. My hope is that safety cultures of the future fit that description.

Q: What are you most proud of?

Professionally, there are three things that come to mind: my success in standing up the Safety Division for the U.S. Marine Corps Training & Education Command; obtaining my CIH certification; and obtaining my Workers Compensation Specialist designation at Chubb Insurance. I worked very hard at each of those, and it felt really good to succeed at each of them and be recognized for that work.

Personally, my two daughters, without question. They both entered this world prematurely and have overcome so many challenges in their lives already to be the happy, healthy girls that they are. But most importantly is that they have kind and loving hearts that belong to Jesus. It feels so good to have teachers tell me how sweet and kind they are, and how they wish they had a classroom full of kids just like them. I love how they love each other and those around them. They make me want to be better, and I strive to do that each day, just for them.