Faces of EHS, Safety Culture, Technology and Innovation

Faces of EHS: Scott Gaddis on Digitizing EHS and Making Safety Personal

Scott Gaddis started his career with the GE company, spending five years as a facility EHS Director in the Motors Division. He spent over five years as Executive Director of Global EHS for Bristol-Myers Squibb and eighteen years with the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in various senior EHS leadership roles ending as the Global Director of Occupational Safety and Health. Before joining Intelex, he served as Vice President, Global Environment, Health, Safety, and Sustainability for Coveris High-Performance Packaging Company in Chicago.

Currently, Scott leads thought leadership for Intelex Technologies, where he works with internal teams to better their capabilities in delivering world-class software solutions. He also builds partnerships with key clients and other professionals in EHS to mitigate loss from the EHS system. Intelex is a global technology company with over 500 employees, whose focus is developing web and mobile software applications that streamline and simplify environmental, safety, quality, and ESG management.

For our Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Scott to discuss his biggest industry influences, digitizing EHS management systems, and making safety personal.

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

I was in my first year of college and attended an informational session about a new and upcoming degree program. The major was Occupational Safety and Health. It caught my eye because of my time working in construction and on farms and seeing a lot of risky behaviors during my teenage years. I changed my major that day and was hooked by my first class, learning safety and health fundamentals. When I graduated, it was logical that I started my work life protecting people, and that’s what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. The best learning and career decision I ever made was to be part of a profession that returns people home safe and healthy every day and protects the environment. 

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

I believe it’s a collection of small things I experienced being done well. I spent most of my career with a paper and consumer goods company, so I will reflect on that experience. The company was very principle-based. The senior leadership team was invested in safety and health and discussed it with the expectation that we would be consistently improving and monitoring for success.

For much of my career, I reported to senior leadership. It was common to see a senior business leader at a safety planning meeting to ensure visible leadership. They challenged projects for additional protections and figured out how to find resources to fund safety projects in challenging budget years. It was normal to start every meeting, regardless of level in the company, with a safety discussion to set the tone for safety, staying top-of-mind.

Things that cost our businesses money, like the right to shut down a machine regardless of employee level, were celebrated and not judged. We brought together groups of people to discuss challenges and embraced the idea that everyone had something to say. We supported capability development with ample training and knowledge transfer, expecting those who knew the most to return it. It all boiled down to the critical fact that the best EHS processes were integrated deeply. As an organization, we understood that our most important activity was protecting our people, and it showed.

So as I think about my biggest influences, I had good leaders embracing excellent practices. Some were relatively small actions, but accumulatively, they allowed me to have the capacity to learn and expand my professional capabilities. And that allowed me to establish a partnership with every employee on our teams. Life lessons happen daily for the EHS professional keen enough to recognize them.

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

Very early in my career, I landed my first safety and health specialist role in a heavy labor-intensive manufacturing plant. When I was hired, the plant averaged over 160 OSHA (primarily soft tissue) recordable injuries a year. As a result, I was getting pressured to improve. Because I did not have much experience, I came up with the idea of giving away a new car to the lucky person who worked without injury for an entire year. Smaller prizes along the journey supported the incentive program. The teams stayed motivated, but everyone focused on winning the car.

As a result, the plant’s safety performance improved dramatically that year, and workplace medical costs decreased. However, our safety performance shot back up the following year, and I was, again, far from meeting the expected targets. I was in my mid-20s and learned I could not buy or bribe my way to safety excellence. Instead, I realized that as an EHS practitioner, my chief role was to build effective EHS management systems. Since that lesson, I have identified work system errors, developed controls to mitigate loss and established partnerships with senior leaders and the frontline. I am a systems guy, so robust management systems are always hallmarks of programs I’ve led.     

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

My number one goal has been to ensure that people go home to their families every day safe and healthy and that we protect the environment. What I’ve enjoyed the most is the journey of doing that. Related to this, I firmly believe that people come to work wanting to be more than what they make or do, so I enjoy growing people. I love the classroom and giving away what I know through mentoring and coaching. I am also a bi-vocational minister, and I get a lot of calls from employees about things that happen primarily outside of work but often affect their work. I am pleased that people know they can reach out to me.

My least favorite part is when someone gets hurt or we’ve threatened the environment. I always question if I had the proper protections in place or if I should have looked at an issue differently. If I could change anything, it would be to expand the reach of myself and my other EHS colleagues to ensure that every worker has better risk management skills and that every leader treats EHS as a value.   

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

I often get into debates about work culture and safety culture. In the purest sense, both share similar definitions like morals, values, behavioral norms, beliefs, and assumptions. However, the difference to me is that I’ve never been in a workplace with a strong culture where safety is hidden. You can identify a strong safety culture because you can see it demonstrated among its members.

As I’ve led safety efforts and how I’ve coached company leaders, it’s this. Ensure that the safety process touches every person in an organization in a personal way. Leaders must ensure the workplace is safe and compliant and support training and skills development. Leaders need to be seen at the frontline and continuously coach and mentor for the values they embrace, like safety.

I think company leaders can help create safety as a value by embracing the idea of employee partnership versus simply trying to gain worker participation. Partnerships are visible, and we collectively share the belief that we all own safety together, regardless of level. Doing that well creates positive energy to do great things. In essence, safety becomes part of the organizational fabric. Safety becomes normalized and simply how we do things around here. I believe that’s the culture you want to achieve.

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

Since EHS is a subset of ESG, the EHS professional will play a strategic role that will only become more critical as we progress. We are already spending much time on the Environment (E) pillar of ESG, working on limiting carbon emissions, controlling waste streams, other pollutants, and biodiversity. For the Social (S) pillar, how we care for people is paramount to success, so there’s a logical overlap to ensure we measure safety and health factors. I don’t believe there will be step-change needs for well-run EHS programs.

However, ESG is data-driven, and some of us probably have unstructured or missing data. Understanding what data needs to be collected, measured, and tracked will be prudent. As we advance, the days of siloed data sources will hinder the EHS professional, so leaning into the challenge with technology for digital data collection will be necessary. Safe to say, for the EHS professional, we should think about this work as a public report card that tells the story of our organization. Organizations that don’t prioritize the fundamentals with ESG will suffer at the hands of investors, regulators, and the public.   

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

We are experiencing tremendous growth in the technology space. From drones, wearables, sensors, cameras, and robots, many things will allow better control of the work environment. The EHS professional should first build a foundation by digitizing the EHS management system since many practitioners still work with fragmented and siloed data streams.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) has leveraged electronic devices to connect directly to your management system through a software platform. Such connections allow the EHS professional to log data, track hazards, monitor conditions, and analyze it to understand new insights. Integrated systems allow the EHS professional to make better, more efficient decisions and see their programs in ways many thought impossible.

Q: What are you most proud of?

First, I’ve been a small part of leading successful EHS programs. Knowing we protected people’s lives and returned them home to their families is incredibly satisfying. Occasionally, a former employee will call and tell me how they applied something they learned and it prevented a personal loss. I am continually amazed that they used what they learned from me, especially outside of work. It always gives me a feeling that my message landed and resonated.

Now that I’m older and more senior, I have also had many connections with graduating high school seniors and young interns. They are trying to choose their college major or better understand their future careers. I am incredibly proud to be a voice for bringing young EHS professionals into a career I have enjoyed for over 30 years. But maybe the most enjoyable thing is watching their EHS careers take off as they do great things. 

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

Aside from being technically competent, overwhelmingly, relationship building is critical to success in EHS. Our programs are centered around preventing loss to people. Get to know and appreciate the people you work with and protect them. Have a passion for learning and seek a senior leader to mentor you. Be curious to learn new and advanced thinking in EHS and be bold to advocate changes that better control of the EHS system.

This leads me to a final point: own your career. EHS work, at times, is not easy, and the young professional will share in both successes and failures. In either scenario, there is learning, and the professional applying such lessons will likely succeed.

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