Zach Pucillo has been in the environmental, health and safety (EHS) field for the past 17 years. His EHS experience started right after he earned his degree in Environmental Science from Indiana University. His first EHS position was working for a stack testing company based out of Texas. In 2006, he started at KPA as an EHS field consultant. His experience as a consultant included consulting, auditing, training, recordkeeping, loss control, and managing the EHS programs for clientele in the general manufacturing and automotive industries.
In 2021, Zach was promoted to his current position as the EHS Compliance Manager at KPA, where he monitors and researches EHS regulations introduced by various regulatory agencies. KPA provides EHS software and onsite consultation service for a wide range of businesses.
For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Zach to discuss how he got his start in the industry, the importance of face-to-face interaction, and the future of EHS software, wearables, AI, and ESG reporting.
Q: How did you get your start in the field?
I started in the field back in 2004 when I was earning my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. I was one of those rare people who actually studied EHS while in college and continued down that career path after earning the degree. I interned in the EHS department at my university, which had about 150 laboratories on campus. Our team would inspect the labs for safety compliance, respond to hazardous spills, manage their hazardous waste, and their safety data sheet inventories.
Once I graduated with my degree, I was immediately hired by a stack testing firm out of Texas. I learned a lot during my brief stint as a stack tester. It was difficult and demanding work. One night, I was in Iowa conducting a stack test at an ethanol plant. There was a freezing rain event going on and I was in a bucket on a boom lift about 45 feet in the air moving a probe back and forth across this stack collecting a sample, only to find out that at the end of the collection the equipment had an air leak and my last six hours was a waste of time.
At that point I decided that stack testing was not for me. I searched the job market and found this company looking to hire for an EHS consulting position in Indianapolis. I applied and started my long career with KPA.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?
When I was about 8 years old, we had the chief of the local fire department attend our class at school to give a talk about fire safety and prevention. While he wasn’t the most enthusiastic speaker, he did hold my attention, I mean every firefighter is cool to an 8-year-old. Years later when I was in middle school, I was a latchkey kid. I got home one day and thought it’d be nice to start and cook dinner for my parents. I knew we were having hamburgers and French fries that night.
I began to heat up some oil in a pot on the stove top, which was a flame burner. While that was heating up, our family dog was outside barking up a storm, so I proceeded to investigate. Once I returned to the kitchen, I was greeted by a great blazing flame coming from the stove top. I froze in terror. When I decided to act, I went for the sink sprayer but then I had a flashback to the fire chief’s talk. I remember he said to never throw water on a grease fire and to use a fire extinguisher. I retrieved the extinguisher from a closet and proceeded to use it to put out the fire. That fire chief saved my childhood home that day and may have saved my life. From that point on, I wanted to be in the field of safety.
Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
I’d say my best mistake is underestimating the value of being vulnerable and opening yourself up to more social engagement when working together.
I remember in the early days as a field consultant, I would routinely complete hazard identification audits at the facilities of my clientele. I’d enter a location, let management know I was there, start my process alone, see a hazard, snap a picture, make my notes, and just move onto the next item. The employees looked at me as the mean safety officer as I walked past their areas. When I would go home at the end of the day, I just continued to have this unfulfilled feeling. A feeling like I was constantly looked at as an enemy at work. That is when I realized I was going about it all wrong.
I started a new approach to the way I would conduct my audits. You have to make yourself a part of their team. When entering an employee’s area, I’d introduced myself and did the best I could at engaging in conversation outside of EHS. Many times, I’d try to share something about myself that people wouldn’t expect such as, I’m a big comic book superhero fan. I’d engage in conversations about their specific tasks so I could understand the operations better. When there were issues, I got the chance to conduct a little one on one coaching and I’d give praise when it was due.
Soon, the employees started opening up more to me. When I was onsite, they were eager to show me their accomplishments since my last visit. I was now a part of the team and I’d go home with that since of fulfillment.
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 when I get the chance to train people. We are training and coaching people to be safe so that they can go home and truly do what they want to do…live. Having a person walk up to you after a training session and tell you, “Thank you, I never knew that you should never use water to put out a grease fire until today,” is one of the greatest senses of fulfillment I can personally achieve.
One of my least favorite parts of the industry is walking into a facility and discovering that a company’s leadership only desires compliance with regulations. Compliance with regulations is important but taking steps in establishing a safety program in an organization to only achieve compliance is doing injustice to the employees. This approach typically leads to a workplace culture completely void of safety acknowledgement and injuries will frequently occur.
Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?
High-performing organizations have “champions” outside of EHS departments who advocate for safety programs. These champions aren’t always executives–they can come from anywhere in the organization such as head of manufacturing, head of marketing, etc. In any case, when someone outside the safety team takes the lead, they help other employees realize that keeping staff safe requires buy-in from everyone.
It’s especially important for team leaders and executives outside of the EHS department to uphold safety standards and educate staff on them because their departments look to them for leadership. Safety initiatives start at the top level of management and must be showcased in those roles for them to flow down to the rest of the organization.
Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
I have my eye on four main trends over the next five years:
- EHS software: There are many EHS regulations that companies have to keep track of. That gets even more difficult for small and medium sized businesses (SMB) who may not be able to devote several people to managing an EHS program. EHS software can make it much easier for SMBs to manage their safety programs, even ones that might be short-staffed or dealing with turnover.
- ESG reporting: Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) is becoming a necessity for organizations across the country. It’ll be critical for companies to have a reliable way to report on their effects on the environment, surrounding community, and stakeholders.
- Wearables: The workforce has gone through a generational change. Millennials who grew up with the introduction of mobile technologies are now in managerial and supervisory roles. The next generation entering the workforce are unaware of a time before mobile technology. The industry must continue to adapt to these devices and support their use in a “results now” world. Workers can leverage mobile devices and other handhelds to help keep them safe on the job and immediately identify remediation steps in the event of workplace incidents.
- AI capabilities: Likely more than a few years out, we’ll see a host of true AI capabilities like video interpretation for hazard alerts and motion detection for ergonomic improvements. Those will materialize in the workplace once the total cost of implementation, related capex, and reliability of the software solutions becomes more affordable for middle market companies.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?
The pandemic did a couple of things, chief among them was to bring safety into the national spotlight and to introduce a slew of new safety regulations. Even without a pandemic, it’s not always easy for companies to keep up. New rules require employees to be educated in them, new policies and processes need to be introduced, etc. Coupled with high turnover, many businesses find themselves hard-pressed to manage all of the new and changing safety requirements.
EHS software can be a boon for these businesses that need a better and more efficient way to manage these regulations. It makes things like OSHA 300 reporting, incident management, on-the-go training, and injury and illness prevention faster and easier.
Software can also provide analytics, which can help companies better assess the effectiveness of safety programs and identify areas to improve or focus on. For example, you might find that slips and falls were the most recorded incident in a particular year. So, more hazard signage could be necessary to help mitigate these incidents.
Q: How will safety culture look in the future?
It’s impossible for anyone to manage a safety program out of a binder. The most effective safety cultures will use technology and software to improve outcomes and mitigate risks.
Q: What are you most proud of?
I was recently awarded the 2022 Rising Star of Safety by the National Safety Council (NSC). In addition to receiving the Rising Star Award this year, I was awarded the Hazardous Materials Professional of the Year by the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals. Recognition from these prestigious organizations makes me proud of the impact I’m able to have on my clients and their safety outcomes.
Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Don’t forget the valuable impact of face-to-face interactions. The world has gone through a rare experience in the past few years. The pandemic forced us to keep our distance from one another. We were able to adapt through the use of innovative technology and that technology is here to stay.
EHS software will keep businesses educated and organized, and it will help to ensure the gaps are filled but it can be taken to the next level when it is paired with an onsite interactive presence. Watching a computer-based training module on equipment safety is an excellent means of educating workers. When you can pair that software training with a competent person who demonstrates the safe operation of the equipment at the site, you may have made a memorable impact on those students.