Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Gabe Encarnacion on Giving EHS a Seat at the Table

Gabe Encarnacion is an environmental, health and safety (EHS) professional who is based in Santa Fe Springs, California. Along with EHS, he has experience in real estate loan securitization and corporate financial planning and analysis in the health insurance industry. Currently, he is the vice president of Bennett-Bowen Lighthouse (BBL Safety), where he is responsible for business development and operations.

BBL Safety is a personal protective equipment (PPE) distributor meeting the safety needs of the construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries in southern California since 1945. The company specializes in safety and help workers select the best resources for their safety needs. As the needs of workers continue to evolve, BBL Safety tries to do the same, providing expertise, training, and support in addition to PPE.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Gabe to discuss his journey into EHS, prioritizing and uplifting workers, and how EHS professionals should be a part of an organization’s decision-making.

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

I started in the safety field in 2011 when I joined BBL Safety to manage its finances and operations. Frankly, I didn’t know much about the safety industry but wanted to understand it better to do my job more effectively. I discovered that the field was much broader than just PPE as I began to meet more safety professionals and experience their passion for helping people through worker health and safety. I learned how the safety field impacts peoples’ lives in and out of the workplace, and I became more curious about the community aspect of the safety field. It’s been fascinating to see how safety professionals can work together to positively impact and further safety in the workplace.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite parts about working in the industry? Would you change anything?

I like seeing how people’s work improves when they have the knowledge and tools to work safely. They’re able to focus on doing their absolute best work because they know they’re minimizing the chances of harm to themselves or others. The work can go from being just a task to something where their strengths and skills can shine, bringing greater personal fulfillment and pride in the work being done. I love elevating that worker’s skill by helping them work safer and smarter.

My least favorite aspect of the safety field is that it seems the pace of innovation in practices, standards, and technology is slow. Advances in the safety field begin with the willingness to experiment and create. Company leaders need to give safety professionals the support they need to develop new ideas and put them into practice. I think there can be more communication and collaboration between workers at all levels in an organization and in the safety community, which will help further the development the innovation that is needed in this field.

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

Company leaders can start by understanding the everyday issues and challenges facing the workers and safety professionals. Communication should be open between all levels of the organization with regards to safety, with issues addressed quickly and effectively. It would also be good to have those responsible for safety involved in other parts of the organization, such as strategic planning of the organization. This sends a strong message to the organization that leadership values safety enough to give safety professionals a “seat at the table” when it comes to making decision for the organization. Finally, provide the resources of time and money to those responsible for the safety of the people in the organization. All these steps should be done consistently if leaders are to see long-lasting change in the safety culture of the company.

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

Over the next five years, the implementation and integration of digital tools in the workplace will be more common, helping safety professionals manage and analyze data about their teams and helping them make proactive decisions about worker safety. The workforce will become more distributed and decentralized, making communication more critical in organizations. Safety professionals will need to become more familiar with multiple communication methods and how to best use them to connect with their teams.

There will be a more holistic approach to worker health and safety. People will become more aware of how work affects all aspects of their life, and they will look for work that is meaningful and fulfilling. Organizations that understand this will place greater emphasis on worker safety, since it will result in more fulfilling work. I also expect that mental and emotional health will become a greater part of the safety discussion as the stigmas around addressing mental health continue to change.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

There will be a more holistic view of worker health and safety. For instance, workers’ mental health and physical health will become part of the same discussions regarding total worker health instead of being addressed separately. As our work and personal lives continue to become more intertwined, safety professionals will need to be aware of how workers’ actions at work and home can affect one another. This is a lot of ground to cover for safety professionals, so communication and collaboration is a must. The most effective safety professionals will know how to build connections with multiple areas of responsibility in their organization. More resources and professional organizations are accessible to safety professionals both online and in real life, presenting opportunities for safety professionals to connect and find support from others in this field.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Stay curious and always be learning! Education doesn’t stop once you have a degree, when you’ve landed that job, or when you’ve been in a role for a certain number of years. Keep up a sense of curiosity and find ways to keep learning.

Safety can be very taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. There are many great organizations and events that are geared towards safety professionals where you can build your network. Get involved with them and start talking with others in the safety field. It’s a great way to get support in your work and to give back to others who may need your help and expertise. 

Don’t forget to work on yourself, too. I’ve found that people who get into the safety field are generally “givers” more than “takers,” and that means they can get depleted if they’re not careful.