Adam Geller is an electrician by trade and the safety director at Hanley Energy Electrical in Ashburn, Va. He has more than 20 years of electrical experience and an extensive background in incident investigations, which helps him quickly identify root causes and implement corrective measures. Geller is a subject matter expert in lockout/tagout procedures and his credentials include CESCP, CHST and various training and accreditations from the National Safety Council.
What sparked your interest in the safety profession?
I was actually running a fairly large project as a foreman when the superintendent approached me with the opportunity to become “the safety guy.” I was asked where I saw myself with this company in the future and if I was willing to move up in a higher management role. I asked him what he had in mind. He said, “I want you to move into safety and accept the challenge that lies ahead.” It was mentioned to me that it wouldn’t be entirely easy to make the transition, but the company was willing to pay for the training to help me succeed.
Of course, I love being an electrician, but at the same time over the years, it puts a lot of wear and tear on the body because of the nature of work. I took a week or so to think about it and then came to the conclusion that I was going to accept the position as a safety manager. Never in a million years did I think that I would become “the safety guy!”
Once I started training, I thoroughly enjoyed safety and developed a passion for keeping the workers safe on the job. The rewarding part is that I gained a lot of respect early on in the field because of my electrical background [and] personability, and I was told that I am very approachable.
Simply put, I know the trade, and I know that sometimes corners are cut because we think that’s the only option. I feel that I have an advantage because what I’ve learned as a safety professional combined with electrical knowledge is necessary and instrumental in keeping the workers safe on the job.
What makes safety training effective? Do you talk about why the procedure or policy makes sense?
Keeping the workers engaged as much as possible during the training is an indicator that they are paying attention. Follow up with them in the field to ensure they are using the techniques they were taught. Many times safety professionals train [workers] but refrain from circling back around to check on them…sometimes additional coaching may be needed.
The best way to prove to them that it makes sense is to have examples of what could happen if they deviate from what is in place. They need to know that a policy is not just written to justify your job as a safety professional, but to help mitigate the hazards.
How do you encourage crews to take safety seriously?
Not only is it for their well-being, but that’s the only way to make it home in one piece every day. As always, it’s easy to sound like a broken record when you tell them not to gamble with safety because your luck will run out. If safety is not taken seriously, you run the risk of increased incidents and injury.
I also convey to them that, within our current business model, we have to continually improve our safety record in order to be awarded additional work. Answer the question. Do you enjoy working for such a great company? Unfortunately, if we fall short in this area, we’ll be unable to keep you employed.
What are some of the challenges you face in managing safety responsibilities?
Our rapid growth is definitely a challenge due to the demand of specialty services that we provide in the industry. The need to add qualified workers to our roster is ongoing and requires extensive training so the workers can hit the ground running. When you bring in new personnel, you also bring their bad habits, so it’s safe to say they need to be trained to adapt to the current culture established.
Is there a specific injury or almost-injury that changed how you thought about safety on the job?
Yes, there was a young worker that fell through a hole and sustained significant injuries due to the negligence of the general contractor. Lack of knowledge as it pertains to hazard recognition played a big role in the incident.
I remember going to the hospital to visit the worker to provide support for the family, and it was extremely awkward. I felt responsible for the incident because I could have done something to prevent it from happening. I almost decided to throw in the towel, but then vowed to work harder to keep my workers safe.
Header image by Adam Geller.