Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Travis Livermore on Personal Connections in Safety

Travis Livermore has a background in both safety and legal work. He began his safety career as a field safety facilitator and later field safety manager, on a large construction plant where a coal-fired power plant was being built. After his first job in safety, he attended law school, graduating with honors. After law school, he spent three years with an appellate court, writing decisions for cases that were up on appeal. He later returned to occupational safety and worked on a large gas-fired power plant project for three years, and then spent about a year in a petrochemical facility.

Currently, Travis works as an associate attorney at Touchstone, Bernays, Johnston, Beall, Smith & Stollenwerck, L.L.P., a law firm in Dallas that handles a variety of cases, including construction defect and injury cases.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Travis to discuss the importance of personal connections in EHS, continuous learning on the job, and fostering respect between workers and management.

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

I was fortunate enough to know someone who gave me a chance to work in occupational safety on a large construction project. I also had the advantage of speaking Spanish, which can be quite useful in such a setting.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

My biggest influence has been Jeremy Presnal, who has taught me how to build a relationship with operations, maintenance, and production groups, and focusing on the highest priority advances in an organization, site, or facility’s safety culture.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

When I began my career in safety, I did not realize how important personal connections are. It’s crucial to be liked and/or respected by the workforce. Obviously, safety professionals sometimes have to enforce policies or changes that are not popular. However, if the workforce sees the safety professional as straightforward, committed, and humble, the long-term relationship will suffer very little if at all.

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

My favorite part of working in the industry is the opportunity to learn so much about different industrial processes. The learning is both a fringe benefit and a necessity to become the most effective EHS professional possible. My least favorite part of working in the industry is the focus on outdated metrics that are not predictive of serious injuries, such as the recordable incident rate.

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

Those who report to company leaders must recognize the value and importance their leaders place on safety. Company leaders should expect operational leaders to report out on safety and safety improvements within their respective areas of responsibility on a routine basis. Additionally, company leaders should go out of their way to complement their subordinates who take an active interest in working with frontline leaders to improve safety.

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

I am seeing an increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, companies are recognizing that overly fatigued employees are not only less safe but also less productive. I also see and love the emphasis on engineering out opportunities for error, while recognizing that human beings are always going to make errors.

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

COVID-19 has stolen much of our commitment to preventing serious injuries. Of course, preventing the spread of the pandemic was important, but when fewer folks at higher levels connect regularly with frontline workers, frontline workers are more likely to suffer life-altering injuries or fatalities. It’s good that we are getting back to connecting with workers and letting them know we care about their safety.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

The focus on safety will continue improving. More and more, companies realize not only the human value of a full commitment to safety culture but also the business value. The focus on preventing serious injuries and fatalities rather than focusing on outdated metrics should continue driving us to a place in which there are fewer serious injuries and fatalities.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of being able to connect with a workforce, build relationships with the people doing the work, and learn about the process to the extent that I can help drive cultural improvement.

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

The first thing I would say is embrace humility and realize that you are ignorant about the work that those you support are doing. This may not be true in all cases, but the majority of the time, a young safety professional overestimates his or her intelligence in comparison with crafts and operators. We can all learn from those doing the work, and in fact, we must do so in order to be successful.

It’s important to combine reading and extracurricular learning about the operations of your workplace while also learning by talking to workers and observing workers in the work environment. It’s important to remember that we cannot learn everything from textbooks, and craftspeople and operators have developed a wealth of valuable knowledge over the years. If they see you as someone who is humble and wants to help rather than impose, they will often be the greatest source of learning for a young safety professional.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

I would advise young safety professionals to embrace opportunities to do extra work. They will likely be asked to perform a variety of tasks, some of which may not be what they expected coming out of college. My advice is to not let pride get in the way of an opportunity to learn. The learning will pay off! I was once on a dirt-moving project as the safety supervisor. I spent the first week post-hole digging so we could put up a fence around areas that were protected for archaeological purposes. This was very hard work, but I was able to connect with another high-level member of the management team and build a connection before the workers arrived.

I would further advise that it’s always good to ask questions, if done in a respectful way. There is nothing wrong with approaching workers and telling them that you want to learn. Folks who take pride in what they do generally like imparting knowledge to others.