Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Cameron Strother on Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Cameron Strother serves as a senior EHS manager at Skanska, one of the largest construction and development companies in the U.S. The 17-year EHS veteran emphasizes the need for industry recruitment and training, especially with construction and other skilled trades facing a labor shortage.

Strother joined Skanska two years ago, and he’s currently on a jobsite at the University of Texas at Tyler, his alma mater. His duties include leading, developing, and managing EHS staff members and developing preventive action plans as needed.

Strother received his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and his master’s degree in industrial management from the University of Texas at Tyler. In 2016, he earned his CSP credential from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He’s also currently pursuing his MBA from Oklahoma State University and plans to graduate this December.

Notably, Strother was just awarded Skanska USA Building’s EHS Professional of the Year award, and he’s proud to have racked up more than 130,000 hours with no work incidents.

To learn more about Strother and his take on industry issues, please read the Faces of EHS interview below:

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

I began my career in 2007 as an intern at a refinery as part of a third-party consulting firm doing the typical “grunt work” like badging and fit testing. There was a union EHS representative at the refinery who took me under his wing. He had FRs and a gas monitor, and I asked him what he was doing. He handed me some FRs and said join me tomorrow morning. He got me into the safety realm. It was the best experience because I learned from someone who really wanted to teach me the ins and outs of the profession while on the job. Within six months, I was hired full-time and worked four-and-a-half years under my mentor’s direction.

I then transferred to the consulting firm’s corporate office. We had an EHS division that encompassed staffing of EHS representatives and conducting EHS training, a crane and rigging signal person, an operator qualifications division, and a high angle rescue team where we staged rescues at various locations. I started as an assistant manager between these divisions, then moved up to operations support manager, and then moved into the operations director position, which I was in for five years.

Through the consulting company, I was able to get a full range of EHS experience in petrochemicals—refineries, pipelines, pipeline stations—including heavy industrial experience when we were building different refinery units. Due to the pandemic, the company needed to cut back on staff, so I decided to seek other employment opportunities, which is how I began working for Skanska. I joined them in North Texas in 2022.

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

Robert Martin, the union EHS representative who mentored me early in my career, has been my biggest influence. He taught me that you cannot truly be a good safety professional if you don’t get out amongst the people and understand what they are doing day in and day out. He emphasized how critical it is to know the jobs and projects that are being done, but even more importantly, to know the people. The relationships you have with the people in the field are critical to keeping them safe.

Currently, Alex Garcia, a safety professional alongside me at Skanska, is a major influence. He has the same drive to create relationships with the people on the jobsite, but he has an unmatched skill to convey complicated messaging in a very clear and easy-to-understand way.

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

When I graduated from college, we were in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, so finding work was more difficult than expected. Originally, I wanted to get into manufacturing and potentially become a production manager. It wasn’t a mistake, but having an open mind and taking the chance on an opportunity opened an entirely different career path I never considered. That chance has paid off.

Q: What are some of the biggest EHS issues at your organization?

Many industries are facing this same problem: the retirement of a generation of workers in the next few years. We have a group of people exiting the industry and taking a large body of knowledge and not applying it to the next generation. And these folks are trying to pass along the knowledge, but we have a dire need for more people to enter the construction field.

The challenge coming out of this is figuring out how to get young people excited about the construction industry. I’m doing what I can by working with the National Center for Construction Education and Research. I’ve served on the organization’s pipeline safety committee to help develop trade school materials and to teach about industry and EHS. I’ve also contributed information on the construction trades. The organization helps schools use curriculum that aligns with their needs.

And when it comes to transferring knowledge from the older generation to the new, there is a technology divide—for example, paper plans versus using an iPad. As an industry, we need to help bridge the gap so the critical knowledge of this generation is not lost.

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

My favorite part about working in the industry is being out in the field. I thrive when I’m out there working alongside the people on the jobsite. It is also how I can do my job well. I’ve built trust with the crew because they realize I know what they are doing and connect with me when I’m passing along safety information.

My least favorite part about the job is how we can overthink safety at times. We put a process or procedure in place to protect, but it can overcomplicate things at times. I’m a bigger fan of being direct and to the point so the process or procedure is easily understood and leaves no room for interpretation.

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

Buy-in from the entire team is paramount. A safety culture is built with the backing and follow-through of everyone on-site, from leaders to labor workers. Our goal is to get to the end of the project without any major incidents or lost time.

My current project at the University of Texas at Tyler has its own safety specifications set by the UT system. Because UT has regular audits from their insurer, they inspect our jobsite weekly, which keeps us on our toes in the best way possible. Knowing this is just another layer of accountability to an already tight ship.

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

As a general contractor, we use subcontractors, and we run across some who do not invest the time or money into employee safety. They have a more reactive than proactive safety culture, so they are not mitigating hazards. But it goes to show you that safety starts at the top with leadership. Of course, we know this because we vet all our subcontractors, including for safety.

This brings to mind the Henry Ford quote, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” When employees are not trained in safety, people’s lives are in danger, projects end poorly, and business suffers. It is worth creating a safety culture and training employees.

Q: What will be the impact of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles on the EHS industry?

The EHS profession is constantly evolving, and it will evolve to take on more robust roles in environmental safety. We must use our foundational expertise while learning new methods and changes in best practices. All of us should be on the lookout to identify best practices we can adopt, but also share our own so we can improve the industry.

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

Technology is evolving on the jobsite at a rapid pace. For example, AI/cameras on-site can recognize hazards and report them to you in real time. This is something that will mitigate risks exponentially. And cameras that are put on the jobsite for time-lapse purposes can become an investigative tool if an incident should occur. But technology will continue to develop and be implemented for years to come. Today, AI is the hottest new tool.

Q: What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve developed throughout my career. I’ve earned respect from contractors and owners, created meaningful, trusting relationships, and I can lean on a number of EHS professionals to use as a sounding board. I feel like I’m in a great position to learn from the generations ahead of me and impart some wisdom to those who are coming into the industry.

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

For you to become a great EHS professional, you have to get in the trenches. It’s the same advice I received, and it has served me well. You need to know what everyone is doing so you can better protect them. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and learn the job.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

If there are any young people who want to know how to establish a career path in EHS or construction, I’m happy to be a resource. I want these up-and-coming safety professionals to reach out.

To learn more about Strother’s views on building a strong safety culture, make sure to listen to his EHS On Tap podcast interview here.

Are you or a colleague an EHS professional interested in being profiled for the Faces of EHS series? Please contact Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com.

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