ESG, Faces of EHS, Safety Culture

Faces of EHS: Tyler Vanchure on Organizational Culture and ESG

In 2019, Tyler Vanchure graduated from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in Safety Management. Upon graduation, she accepted a Safety Specialist position at Southwire Company, a wire manufacturing company, in Carrollton, Georgia, where she worked for three and a half years at their largest utility wire manufacturing facility. During her time at Southwire, she earned her master’s in business administration with a concentration in safety and became a Special Government Employee (SGE) through OSHA to assist with the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).

In January 2023, she started a new role as the Senior Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Specialist at The Hershey Company in Robinson, Illinois, the location responsible for making Hershey’s Payday, Heath, Skor, Whoppers, Milk Duds, and Reese’s Pieces. The Hershey Company manufactures more than 90 brands and beloved products of chocolate, sweets, mints, and other snacks. There are approximately 20,000 team members worldwide, with a headcount of approximately 750 at the Robinson location.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Tyler to discuss failing safely, organizational culture, and Gen Z’s prioritization of ESG principles.

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

I have always had an inkling to help others but was unsure of what field I was interested in pursuing. My uncle, TJ Gallagher, is in the safety field, currently working out of California, and informed me about what safety is and how it fits my personality and desire to help others. I love the idea of safety being the first line of defense, with the goal of stopping incidents and injuries from occurring. Unknowingly to me initially, Pennsylvania has a few schools with top-notch safety programs, and I was lucky enough to fall in love with Slippery Rock University’s campus before learning that they have, in my biased opinion, the best safety management program.  

My first experience in the safety field was my safety internship at Amazon, in Columbus, Ohio, during the summer between my final two years at Slippery Rock. I had the opportunity to work with and learn from a safety manager, safety specialists, injury prevention specialists who were focused on ergonomic improvements, and first responders. While I was there, I completed a project that showed the benefits of removing mobile equipment from their shipping docks to reduce the risk of vehicle pedestrian interface (VPI).  

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

I have found wonderful mentors in my undergraduate professors, previous and current co-workers and bosses, my Southwire mentors, the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), and Women in Safety Excellence (WISE). I take a lot of inspiration and influence from other women in the safety field and in positions of power.

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

I have been fortunate enough to work with and for safety professionals who have encouraged me to look at failures or mistakes as learning opportunities, so there haven’t been many instances that have stuck with me where I considered an action or decision I’ve made to be a true mistake.

When I first started in safety, I was terrified of failing or making incorrect decisions or mistakes. That was probably my biggest and best mistake. I am convinced though that it is only my best mistake because I had a manager who was able to change my mindset as it pertained to the, typically, negative connotation associated with mistakes. I would constantly run decisions through my manager to make sure I was making the best decision, to the point where I would rarely make a final decision on my own, even after already pulling in a cross-functional group.

My manager at the time, and now one of my closest mentors, Molly McDevitt, recognized that and encouraged me to have confidence in myself to make educated decisions. She created an environment that allowed me to “fail” safely and let me know that she would support my decisions or provide feedback to help me make a better decision next time. That is probably why no big “mistakes” come to mind, because mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities, rather than being shamed for them, which I am incredibly grateful for.

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

I love that we, as safety professionals, have the opportunity to help employees go home safely every day. If nothing else, we are advocates for employees, ensuring that their voices, concerns, and wellbeing are heard and considered in decision-making processes and improvements. It is incredibly rewarding to have a hand in making improvements that better the physical safety and organizational culture of the facility.

My least favorite things about the safety industry are the safety personnel and leadership who are content with the bare minimum. I feel that much of the negative connotation that has been associated with safety historically is because safety was communicated as a “thou shall because it’s what is required,” and it would stop where regulatory agencies said it was okay to stop.

I do feel like there have been great strides made to change this mindset, even just in the time that I have been in safety, but it is going to take all of us making conscientious decisions to make continuous improvements to show that the reason we care so much and the reason we are implementing best practices is because we won’t settle for anything less than the best protection for our people.

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

I am not a big proponent of looking at safety through a “safety culture” lens. My worry with not referring to an overall organizational culture that is founded on safety is that we separate safety as a thought process, rather than integrating it into each process that we have. This leads us to having a separate safety culture, quality culture, production culture, etc., which makes it seem like they are not intertwined, when we know that is not really the case. Having an organizational culture that has a strong foundation of safety is a better reflection of safety as a value in every aspect of the business.

As leaders, we need to stop pushing safety culture for the sake of pushing safety culture, especially verbally. Safety will become a value when our actions and decisions show employees that we are serious about keeping everyone safe, which is done through providing time, money, and resources to make improvements and then actually making those improvements. If our words and actions continuously contradict each other, we will not make any progress with considering safety a value. Positive reinforcement and recognition will also go a long way.

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

There needs to continue to be an increased focus on improving our processes and making improvements that are related to elimination, substitution, and engineering controls to allow employees to fail safely, rather than focusing on non-intentional employee behaviors. At the end of the day, human error and critical errors are going to happen, we just need to make sure that when they do, our employees are still safe.

Speaking of critical states of mind and errors, while mental and psychological safety are starting to become more socially encouraged to be talked about and addressed, we still have a long way to go. I am excited for the idea of what psychological safety will look like in the future, but we need to be looking at what we can accomplish now to reduce the amount of rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency we have among our workforce and strive toward better work-life balances.

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

There will be a significant impact of ESG principles on the EHS industry and companies worldwide. Gen Z has made it very clear that ESG principles are a top priority, especially from a sustainability and social responsibility standpoint. As more Gen Z workers enter the safety profession, there is going to be a greater push to make sure companies are taking responsibility for their financial performance, regulatory risks, reputation, and environmental impact.

There is also going to be a continued emphasis on emissions, energy consumption, climate change, and renewable energy. I would not be surprised if EHS departments at companies that don’t support ESG principles have a hard time filling their positions. Along with that, as companies continue to make improvements, expand, bring in new equipment and projects, etc., ESG principles are going to be the expected standard as they start.

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

New safety technology, if used to its best capability, will allow EHS professionals to reduce a lot of manual work and streamline data input and trending, which will save a lot of time and reduce human error. We will have the opportunity to quickly identify and quantify risks and more accurately communicate and justify appropriate corrective actions, proposed solution costs, risk after action, and return on investment (ROI). Collaborating and sharing ideas will only continue to get easier. We have a whole world of knowledge, ideas, templates, products, systems, and contacts at our fingertips, which is a huge benefit for current and future EHS professionals.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the relationships I have formed with operators and supervisors. I am a big advocate for being a visible and easily accessible safety professional, open to constructive criticism, sharing ideas, and answering questions. I sincerely care about understanding what they do on a day-to-day basis and what I can do to help them. I try to make it very clear that I work for them, they are my customers, and it is important to me that they are safe. I definitely feel the proudest when operators stop me on the floor to talk through safety observations, concerns, or ideas for improvement.

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

I have a few pieces of advice for new safety professionals. First, when you interview with a company, understand that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. While it is important for the company to get a feel for if you are a good fit for them, it is more important for you to ensure that the company and location are a good fit for you. Do you feel comfortable talking with and asking questions of your interviewers? Do you feel comfortable onsite? Can you see yourself living in the area? Does the company share similar values to the ones you hold? For example, with my previous and current positions, I made sure to consider each company’s community give-back efforts because that is something that is important to me.

Second, when you start at a company, take the time to set up one-on-ones with all the supervisors, managers, and support groups to get to know them better personally and get to know their processes, roles, and responsibilities. This was one of the best decisions I made upon my start at Hershey.

Finally, do not be afraid to ask questions, and make sure to ask questions with a goal of “seeking to understand.” It is nearly impossible to be an expert in all things EHS-related and with every new opportunity comes a learning curve. Don’t settle for “I don’t know” answers and ask questions in a way that generates further conversation for a better understanding. The goal is to create and sustain an environment where asking questions is normal and encouraged, if you feel the opposite, you probably aren’t in the best environment.

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