Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Tony Mudd on How Safety Is Personal

Tony Mudd is an exceptional and enthusiastic leader who has dedicated his whole life to helping workers return home safely. Over the last 10 years, he has worked in the automotive and steel manufacturing industries, building positive relationships with the team members, increasing their level of compliance, and proactively addressing workplace safety issues within Fortune 500 companies. He has years of industry experience conducting EHS training pertaining to OSHA’s 1910 General Industry Standards. He also guided former employers through the development and implementation of safety programs that have caused a significant reduction in overall worker injuries.

Tony is the founder and vision performance coach at Sensori Safety, LLC, a company whose mission is to prevent accidents in the workplace by helping employers predict human error. He created a Safe Sight Vision & Neuro Performance Training Program for mobile equipment operators to give employers real-time data to track and monitor which workers are mentally and physically ready for work. The goal of this program is to help teams stay sharp and avoid distractions, maintain focus, and enhance their ability to make safe decisions.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Tony to discuss the story that inspired him to become a safety professional and the advice he has for young people entering the EHS industry.

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

After a decade of working as a safety professional, I am always asked what caused me to go into the field of workplace safety. What fueled my drive and passion to ensure that workers make it home safely all started with my grandfather, Joe.

On January 24th, 1996, my grandfather—a career company veteran of 25 years, a husband, and father of five—went to work and did not come home. He was crushed by 5,000 pounds of lumber. After 16 hours of reconstructive surgery, and 60 broken bones, he was told that he would never walk again. For 12 months, he was paralyzed from the legs down, restricted to a body cast.

After one full year of being confined to a body cast and another two years of physical therapy to gain back his mobility, he lost his job and his mental health deteriorated from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although he survived this incident, it did in fact take his life: his life of providing for his family and being free from pain and agony.

I watched as my grandfather fought for the life he once knew. From struggling to walk with a cane to limping and holding onto walls, going from one doctor’s appointment to another, and taking several prescription medications each day, my grandfather was not the same. This incident not only stole his life; it stole my experiences with him as well.

His story inspired me to start a company focused on creating a safer workplace. A company with a mission to predict human error and prevent accidents in the workplace. To me, workplace safety is not just a job, it’s 100% personal. I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the investigation receiving the call that changes everything. Like many other injuries in the workplace, my grandfather’s injury was preventable. I became a safety professional to prevent someone else from having to experience a story like my grandfather’s.

Q: What is your favorite part about working in the industry?

What fires up my passion and makes me excited is knowing that the work I do every day is helping workers and giving them another chance to go back home to their loved ones safely. It makes my job worthwhile knowing that someone has made it home safely with no cuts, bruises, sprains, or damage; They leave the workplace the same way they came: uninjured.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you see in the safety industry?

From my experience, the biggest hurdle in the industry is a lack of change. Many say they want it, but most are afraid of it. I have worked in many different companies and most of their safety programs take a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one, meaning someone must get hurt before something gets done. I notice that even their key performance indicators (KPI) [score] is reactive, basing their performance on how many people did or did not get hurt. Many of them may experience a lower KPI this year than they did last year but they don’t have any analytic or data-driven answers that prove they are getting better. They often also miss factors that contribute to why things aren’t getting better. What do you put in place when it’s the team members’ fatigue, slow reaction time, or poor memory that is the hazard?  

In my opinion, the modern safety program is dated and based on finding the hazards by doing audits and completing reports rather than finding who and what is causing the hazard and why. If you ask me, the core of the safety system should be how team members are performing both mentally and physically before they even step onto the shop floor to determine if they are ready for work. It is important to keep team members sharp to avoid distractions, maintain focus, and enhance their ability to make safe decisions. For the safety program to successfully prevent injuries and accidents, they must be equipped with the appropriate technology.

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

One of the biggest trends I see in the safety industry is safety programs reaching beyond the workplace and into the home, as many team members are starting to work remotely, often in a back room of their home, near their beds, or set up and ready to go on their coffee tables.

This has caused many safety professionals to get a little bit more creative in creating safety programs that identify and correct hazards at home and ensure that team members are getting the proper safety training to remain safe and healthy while working remotely.

Q: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?

My biggest career achievement is who I have become as a leader. Over the last two years, I have worked so hard to build my character so that I could become a leader who is humble, hopeful, accountable, and one who is constantly improving. I evaluate myself every day by asking, “What did I learn today and what can I do better tomorrow?” I have made it my mission to live with intent, to never stop learning, and to stay optimistic.

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

Being a new safety professional can be exhausting, especially if you have never taken on a leadership role that requires you to run a company’s full safety program. This would include building impactful relationships with team members, following up on concerns, auditing the facility, investigating accidents, conducting training, presenting KPIs, and more. I would say that the biggest focus for a new safety professional would be to develop a personal development plan to help him/her become a stronger leader. I would say to them, think about how many books you will read each month or how many conferences you will attend to help you become a better communicator.

My biggest mistake as a young safety professional was putting too much focus on what was not right in the workplace and not enough focus on building stronger relationships with the team.  Anyone can open a book and recite OSHA regulations, but few people cause true change that inspires team members to take initiative and drive their own safety program. I would say, think about what type of leader you want to be and work every day to become that person.

Next, I would say always ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Another big mistake that I made as a young professional was not asking for help and pretending like I knew everything to keep up with the image of a college graduate. I was sadly mistaken. Often, my insecurities and ego got the best of me, and it reflected in my work. My advice would be to keep your ego in check and make sure you are listening more than you are talking. I have learned that most people just want to be heard and respected.

Lastly, being a safety professional is no easy task. You will have some great days where nobody got hurt and you will have some days where you are swamped with deadlines, mile-high paperwork, a huge list of team member concerns, and incidents that make you shake your head and want to throw in the towel. I have been there, and depending on what day it is, I just may be experiencing the same. Just remember to take a step back and take a deep breath. You won’t be able to get everything done in a day, it may take some time. Set a plan for yourself, ask for help, delegate tasks, and remember that this is how you are best serving your team and that by doing so, you just may be saving a life.