Four Types of Safety Professionals
You can meet many different types of people over the course of the career. The personality and experience that an individual brings to their job can affect how they do it. In some ways, you can look at where a person worked and the training they have received and know how they are going to do their job. After spending time speaking with different colleagues in safety, I can feel that I can put a label on which one of the four types of safety professionals they could be.
The Box Checker
Almost all safety professionals will start out in the field checking to make sure that their job site is operating according to the required guidelines of a manual that someone else wrote. The thing is, some may never get passed this role. While an important role, it can be stifling in the sense that they never get the chance to create policy, although what they see every day on the jobsite should influence changes and improvements to that policy.
Box checkers play an important role in that they are the eyes, ears and mouth of safety for their company. They watch for infractions and ensure that all the site paperwork is in order. The reason I put box checkers as the lowest level is that they are perceived as being a nuisance. A meme on Facebook a former high school classmate shared demonstrated that point (see below). In some companies, a safety advisor/coordinator has no authority to issue discipline and, as a result, tend to be ignored. They need to be able to explain to a supervisor why a change needs to be made and then follow up to make sure it is done, but ultimately, it is a site foreperson or supervisor who has final say.
The Drill Sergeant
Similar to a box checker, the drill sergeant is on site. The difference is that they have some authority behind their decisions and can issues orders themselves to have infractions fixed. I use the term “drill sergeant” because, besides having the authority, their personality is such that they have no problem barking orders. I have found this type of safety professional the most abrasive of the three types. They can also be the most effective in getting changes to improve the safety on a site, especially in some industries such as construction, mining and other heavy industries that tend to be still male dominated. (The drill sergeant does not need to be male. They just need to have a strong enough presence to get the workers to jump when she says jump, and I can think of three safeties I’ve met who meet this criteria). They are most effect as site safety supervisors, where they can keep a tight leash on employee behaviour.
The walking encyclopedia of safety, the know-it-all can explain to workers the reasons that they are in violation of a policy, law or regulation. While having this information is greatly beneficial, they need to use this knowledge of safety to persuade, as opposed to the drill sergeant who is able to force a change in behaviour. A know-it-all can be effective in the office as well in creating policy, but they tend to be one of the three of the four types of safety professionals who are on the job site ensuring compliance.
The Policy Wonk
A wonk is defined as “a person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field”. A policy wonk in safety is someone who takes an excessive interest in creating and developing safety policy. They love taking the time to research issues and creating the framework of manuals. Audits don’t faze them, because it is a chance to prove to outsiders that they can create a policy to help their company become compliant. With an ability to learn what laws and standards require and then implement on paper for workers to follow, policy wonks can be an important part of the safety program. They tend to be more office based, but they should have started in the field as a box checker and be in contact with every employee, from the CEO down to the newest hire, because they also are responsible for ensuring training programs are working.
Each one of these four types of safety professionals plays an important role. Some safety professionals out of necessity can come to embody two or more of the different types. If you are hiring a safety professional, look at the type of work you need done. Depending on the industry, any entry level position will probably be a box checker. After that, you may need to see what you need to fulfill the role. If you have a large safety department, a mix of these four in your personnel can ensure that your company can meet its safety obligations