Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Shaun Davidson on Being Passionate About People

Shaun Davidson graduated from Millersville University with a B.S. in occupational safety and environmental health (OSEH) in 2005. After graduation, he became the safety supervisor for a cast-iron foundry in central Pennsylvania and was in that position for three years, managing the safety program for two locations. In 2007, he joined MSC Industrial Supply as a safety specialist at the Jonestown, Penn., warehouse, working with the local leadership team on incident and injury reduction and claims management. MSC is a leading North American distributor of metalworking and maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) products and services.

In November 2018, Shaun was promoted to the new position of Manager of Global Safety, where he currently works with a team of five safety professionals and is responsible for overall corporate safety and health strategy in all segments of MSC’s business. MSC was also the runner up for the Best Overall Safety Program and Culture Award at the EHS Daily Advisor 2022 Safety Standout Awards.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Shaun to discuss how he got his start in the field, the future of ergonomic technologies, and developing a passion for people in safety.

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

I gained interest in the safety field with an “Intro to Safety” class at Millersville University. I had heard of OSHA before, but never had a huge interest in it before that class. At the time, my father was a self-employed electrician, plumber, and HVAC installer and he would share instances of what he saw as “safe/unsafe” work being done while working alongside other contractors.

It was near this time that my father had an incident while working one day. He was working alone in a church steeple and fell almost 14 feet, breaking four ribs during the fall. He laid there until he was found, unable to move or call for help. This injury and his self-employed status (somebody had to do the work!) dragged his recovery on for almost six months. This class and his real-world fall really sparked my interest in occupational safety and health as a career.

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

I think the best mistake I have made was confusing “passion” for what I was doing as a safety professional as a reason or excuse to be aggressive in getting what I thought was the “right or best” solution. Having passion for not only your role but why your role is integral to your organization is important, but it cannot overshadow what you are working towards.

It took me some time to mature into the safety professional I am today, but I think this lesson taught me more to have a passion for people. Not only the associates we are working for, but also the teams I get to work with. Understanding their perspectives, roles and ideas has helped us become the safer, stronger organization we are today and will only help us as we strive for future improvements.

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

I think that leaders need to understand that safety is part of their core function just like quality, productivity, accountability, etc. Safety and all its related topics are not just the “safety person’s” job but rather a core function of being a good leader. I think most leaders want to be the best they can be for their teams and their companies, but fall back on “that’s not my job…” because it’s out of their comfort zone. Compliance is only one aspect of safety, but caring for people is not hard to do, but leaders need to be authentic in it and how they do it.

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

In the next five years, I think there will be more focus on the ergonomics and body mechanics of the safety industry. I have already seen at trade shows and conferences new ergonomic equipment, ergonomic measuring and evaluation software and hardware, and tools for compiling and communicating that data.

As this technology becomes more realistic, there will also be a need to include and monitor the remote workers of all industries. Many times, these individuals work outside or out of a remote location and are alone the majority of their days, so how do we care for them and their needs?

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

The number one effect I have seen from COVID-19 on safety cultures is the lack of interpersonal relationship building. Because of COVID, people have moved to predominantly working from home models and social distancing, which has negatively impacted building relationships with one another.

We are more inclined to care for people we know, and people we get along with. I think COVID stopped a lot of those relationships from being made; therefore, many of us have tunnel vision in our day to day and not necessarily worrying about others but worrying about ourselves and what we have to do.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my organization’s commitment to doing the right thing. Five or six years ago, we were doing well in terms of safety, but we had been stagnant for a few years. Injury rates were low, but not moving lower at any discernable rate across the company.

One of our senior VPs at that time brought all the Operations teams and our Global Safety team together to commend our results, but to challenge each of us to better results. He committed himself and each of the Operations leaders that our associates’ safety is everyone’s responsibility without hesitation. By the end of that day, we had plans for a new safety system at MSC (that we eventually rolled out companywide) and we are still living with that system today.

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

For anyone entering the safety profession, I always recommend getting to know your customers. Who are the people you are going to influence and what’s important to them? In my time in the industry, I have seen a shift away from compliance and training-based needs to a more holistic risk-based need.

We cannot understand the risk to our people if we don’t know them, their job(s), who they work with, what equipment they work with, what and who their influences are, etc. Understanding the who, what, where, when, and why of the operation will help any new safety professional start to build those relationships and make positive impacts to their teams.