ESG, Faces of EHS, Technology and Innovation

Faces of EHS: Katie Stryker on Technology and Connecting EHS with ESG

Katie Stryker is approaching her 17th year in insurance. She has had the pleasure of working at CNA Insurance, a global commercial and specialty insurance carrier with over 5,000 employees throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, for the entirety of her professional career. She started as a risk control trainee, where she focused on providing risk assessment services for CNA’s commercial clients. Then, she moved from a field focused position to a leadership position within the risk control home office. She led the industrial hygiene technical training and consultative service offerings for the department across the US.

Katie continued her journey with CNA Risk Control, and currently she works as the Assistant Vice President of Risk Control for Workers’ Compensation/Employers’ Liability and Auto. In this role, she is responsible for the department’s technical skill development, risk assessment priorities, and consultative skill solutions within these lines.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Katie to discuss how she got her start in the industry, new types of EHS technologies, and connecting EHS with ESG.

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

I was in my senior year at Purdue University exploring career options and had determined that with an occupational health degree, I’d likely be employed by a manufacturer. An individual at CNA reached out to one of our professors informing him that they were looking for candidates to join CNA as a Risk Control Trainee. I knew nothing about commercial insurance, or what a career in this industry would entail, but was intrigued enough to apply. After interviewing, I felt that this was a fascinating opportunity to learn more about many industries and may be a good starting point for my career. I jumped at the opportunity and accepted the offer to start in their Baltimore office.

Oftentimes I wonder how all of the pieces came together to form the career I have now, but I am certain that my ability to be open-minded and flexible played a role. I am now settled back in my hometown of Bloomington, IN, and will admit that I know much more about insurance than I did when I started years ago, but have also realized that one of the best parts of this career is the ability to continuously learn and evolve in my role.

Don’t underestimate the ways you can get involved outside your traditional job requirements. I learned that some of my more fulfilling work at CNA and also some of the greatest recognition I’ve received is from projects and engagements I’ve participated in that were not listed as part of my job requirements. These projects help drive the “why.” Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with peers, senior leaders, and individuals in roles or careers that you think sound interesting.

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

Seeing women in leadership roles is my biggest influence. I look at the experiences and challenges I’ve faced as a woman in safety and leadership and admire those that have carved the path for me. I remember a panel my company hosted a number of years ago with women leaders across the organization and that session was pivotal in showing me that there are leaders who are like me, in positions within Risk Control and elsewhere in the organization. I view the individuals who were on that panel, my past and present managers, and many of my peers as my biggest influences. 

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

Thinking I knew more than I did. While, fortunately, that mindset never got me into a sticky situation, I remember thinking that because I had technical competency through my formal education, I could do anything others did. While I am sure I could have gotten through those early visits solo, experience is so much more than technical competency. Once I set my ego aside and was willing to learn from those more experienced, with unique perspectives, from a different background or industry, I was in a position to truly grow and excel in my career. I wish I had learned that tidbit a little earlier in my career.

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

One of my favorite parts about working in insurance is seeing safety trends and the impact that those trends have on the broader communities. Often, we hear about new technology and safety solutions in their infancy. We get to see the ins and outs of the operational aspect of companies. One really great part of the job is sharing our insights and integrating solutions based on our experience and observations into their operations. 

While seeing trends and linking safety solutions is one of the greatest parts of my career, gaining buy-in with safety solutions is also an extremely challenging part of the industry. We have so much information and insight into loss trends and why incidents occur, yet gaining buy-in from organizations can be challenging. For example, we know driving tasks are a significant exposure potential for all companies. We have data and studies, loss examples, and insights from leading safety firms to show that risky driving behaviors are a significant leader in accidents. Yet, getting buy-in from organizations to recognize that ensuring they have safe drivers behind the wheel can be a daily challenge. Conversely, when we do get an organization to recognize these safety concerns, and take action to improve…that’s a great feeling.

Q: What safety concerns or issues do you think need more prioritization in EHS programs?

Not only understanding but integrating NIOSH’s Total Worker Health® concept. My priority is not promoting the TWH concept for publicity, but rather implementing and integrating the approaches outlined in their framework as it is paramount to a healthy workplace. A lot has been said about equity in recent years, and many of the elements within the TWH concept address creating a more equitable workplace for all.

Consider these elements:  

  • Working overtime to earn enough money to keep food on the table
  • Changing in the car because your workplace does not offer change rooms for women
  • Misusing PPE because an employer does not offer a solution that fits
  • Being the only minority employee in a company
  • Hiding an addiction issue for fear of employment termination

All of these items are scenarios individuals face. They are not uncommon. Yet, it is easy to see them as HR concerns. I’ll be satisfied when we, as EHS professionals, begin to take ownership of the link between these scenarios and safety, productivity, and success of the organizations we work at, and with. 

Q: What will be the impact of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles on the EHS industry?

My hope is that it frames EHS industry talent in a light that recognizes us as leaders in this space. Like it or not, many of the EHS principles are incorporated into the meat of ESG principles. Let’s start with the “E.” It’s the same! Environmental principles are at the core of what many in our profession do. “S” is about the employee and community impact. Again, the “health and safety” component of EHS is also about the people. And lastly, “G” addresses governance policies and practices. This is again right in line with our foundational focus of EHS, which is to ensure those we work with are, at a minimum, adhering to the regulatory requirements that keep them safe and healthy. There is a great opportunity for EHS professionals to work in collaboration with organizational leaders to implement ESG principles and I think this may be our next time to shine. 

Q: How will new safety technologies influence the work being done by EHS professionals?

There is so much data that we can collect with the advancement of technology. I love to see where we are going with this advancement and its integration into the safety world. Technology can be such a valuable tool when it is utilized appropriately.

One such example is the use of unmanned aerial devices, or drones, to check roofs and other high access points. When visual checks can be completed from the ground, we are reducing the frequency with which employees must work from heights. Anywhere we can reduce the risk by a percentage, that’s a win. Technology doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing option.

Another example is vehicle telematics. While data around its effectiveness appears to still be forthcoming, there is promising evidence that telematics can positively impact driver behavior, call for assistance and redirect drivers in the event of upcoming hazards or inclement weather, and even be used to verify at-fault parties in the event of an accident. In the ever-changing litigation landscape, when this technology is used to adequately promote safety and address safety needs, it can be a very valuable tool.

As with any new process, the implementation of new technology may bring about new hazards and risks we need to account for, so just as we do with any process change, a risk assessment is necessary to ensure we’ve identified and properly managed any new hazards.

As EHS professionals, we need to remain open-minded and willing to explore enhancements and solutions. I’d like to see more engagement with how we can find a great solution that accurately and adequately provides a solution for EHS needs.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the growth I’ve experienced in my career while also growing as a person outside my professional role. I have four amazing children, each with a unique personality, who bring about daily challenges. I am proud of the way I have navigated and continue to navigate my career, while also raising well-balanced and cared for children. My greatest hope is that I raise confident and courageous kids who turn into confident and courageous adults, and I am proud of the path that I am showing them through the work I do professionally.

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

Growing up, I thought there were three professions. Everyone was either a teacher, doctor, or lawyer. I quickly learned that while science was fun, the medical profession wasn’t for me. Even after graduating, I felt that the scope of an industrial hygienist was relatively narrow. Now, fully immersed in my career, I can confidently say that safety professionals are in virtually every industry and operation. Find a way to merge your passion for EHS with your passion for other elements. Love sports or the arts? Think about where EHS professionals are needed in sporting and cultural events: we exist within the universities and local communities, public and private organizations, and may be independently contracted or part of a national firm. We are part of volunteer and professional groups, facilities operations, and even integral for Super Bowl halftime shows! The sky is the limit, literally.

I encourage you to connect with as many other EHS professionals as you can. Engage in professional associations and get involved in volunteer groups or community activities. The individuals you meet along the way will provide you with insight into their work within the EHS profession and may ultimately help carve a path for your career. They all have unique experiences and attributes that can help shape your career path. The commonality is that we want everyone to go home healthy and injury free at the end of the day.

Total Worker Health® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Use of this Mark by EHS Daily Advisor does not imply endorsement by HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of any particular product, service, or enterprise. The views expressed in written conference materials and by the speakers do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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