Faces of EHS, Safety Culture

Faces of EHS: Diana Peroni on Positive Safety Culture and Volunteering

Diana Peroni has worked in the EHS field for over 25 years. She started in public health before transitioning to working as an industrial hygienist after completing graduate school. As an industrial hygienist, she primarily has worked on supporting research labs as a contractor at NASA and a National Lab.

For the last 13 years, she has worked in biotech as an industrial hygienist, then EHS manager, and currently she is the Associate Director of Environment, Health, Safety, and Sustainability at BioMarin Pharmaceutical. BioMarin is a biotechnology company that focuses on genetic discovery, made up of approximately 3000 employees. 

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Diana to discuss how she got her start in EHS, positive safety culture, and the importance of volunteering.

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

In college, I studied environmental health and took several industrial hygiene classes. Once I learned what industrial hygiene was, I knew that was the path I wanted to take. I loved the idea of collecting samples, analyzing data, and using that data to help employees go home safe and healthy from work every day. Initially, I worked in public health while I was going to graduate school. 

After graduating and relocating to California from Pennsylvania, I started my career as an industrial hygienist focused on laboratory health and safety. I really loved supporting the innovative research while protecting the researchers. I knew I wanted to switch to private industry and saw biotechnology as a good place to utilize my lab health and safety skills.

For the last 13 years, I have worked for two biotech companies, first as an industrial hygienist, then as an EHS manager and now associate director. In my current role, working in EHS, we contribute to the overall company’s mission of bringing life-changing medications to patients by protecting the workers who discover and manufacture those therapies. 

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

It is hard to pick one person who has influenced me. I think at each stage of my career I have had different people influence me, from co-workers to managers to people I managed and follow, to EHS professionals at other companies and organizations I have met. 

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

This is such a great question. Especially that you use the words “best mistake.” I think one mistake I made was thinking that because I was technically proficient at my job, that would translate to be a good manager in this field. Being a manager of EHS professionals was a whole different skill set that I needed to learn, practice, and develop. 

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

My favorite part is that at the core of what we do, we are helping people. Whether that is the employees at the facilities where we work, or the broader communities we work in, at the root of it all, we are helping people stay safe and healthy. I have been lucky that everywhere I have worked there has been a clear mission and purpose and I have always felt we as EHS professionals contribute directly to that mission.

My least favorite part is that sometimes we are under appreciated for the value we bring to an organization. When everything is going well, it can appear EHS might not be needed when in fact we are working very hard to keep people and the environment safe.

Q: What are your thoughts on safety culture? How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

Safety culture can have a strong impact on an organization and the employees that work there by making them feel valued and safe at work. A positive safety culture can make it a great place to work. To do this, leaders need to make safety a core value of their organizations and encourage everyone to speak up if they see something unsafe and help identify the solutions to correct those unsafe situations. Leaders should ask employees what their safety concerns are and then follow through on addressing them with help from their EHS partners. 

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

Empowering employees to integrate safety in everything they do and speak up when they identify any issue that is contributing to an unsafe workplace. That includes stress and other factors that may contribute to an employee’s health and wellbeing.

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

Attention to ESG principles can be an asset to EHS professionals if we let it be. Many of the ESG principles are aligned with core EHS principles, including the social concerns aspect that includes the health and safety of the work force of a company. With attention on these principles from investors and senior leadership, EHS professionals can lead in this space. 

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

With new technologies, EHS professionals can better collect and manage data to make better science-based decisions. Potentially you could also use these tools to better communicate with senior leadership and demonstrate the value that EHS brings to an organization. 

Q: What are you most proud of? 

Even though it has been about 15 years, one of my achievements I am most proud of is getting my CIH. It took a lot of work, but I am proud that I passed the exam the first time and have continued to maintain the certification.

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

Volunteer for as many projects or new opportunities as possible. It will give you the opportunity to gain experience and collaborate with new colleagues. I always found not only did it make work more enjoyable, but I also learned new skills and ideas. I would also recommend volunteering and getting involved with professional organizations. Early in my career, I volunteered with my American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) local section and have now served in a leadership role on two committees. I was able to network and meet many wonderful EHS professionals and get involved in projects I was enthusiastic about.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Currently, I chair AIHA’s Women in Industrial Hygiene volunteer group. Originally, I got involved with the committee in the hopes to encourage more women to enter and stay in the profession. While that is still at the core of the committee’s mission, what I did not expect to learn is how important it is to consider Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in how we practice EHS to ensure all employees have access to safe and healthy workplaces. That includes making sure PPE that fits every employee is easily available. 

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