Whether coaching high school athletes or teaching safe work practices to electricians, the nickname “Coach” fits Ron Hall perfectly. Hall retired as safety director at Cogburn Bros. Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., then came back part-time on request to help the safety team. I caught up with Hall to learn what led him into the world of safety and how he coaches others to follow suit.
What spurred your interest in the safety profession?
About 14 years ago, I was working on a wastewater treatment plant job in Palm Coast. The company asked if I would be interested in working in safety. The then-safety director was moving to project manager, and they were looking for someone to train for his position. It was July in hot, humid Florida, and I was in my 60s, so I thought this might be a good time to leave the field to the younger workers.
Second, I still liked teaching and training. I like sharing safety practices with co-workers to help them see the need for working safe. I felt that the position of safety director afforded me that opportunity. Third, I was going to be able to be taught by my mentor, Wes Wheeler. I could not have had a better person to learn from.
How do you encourage crews to take safety seriously on the job?
I am an Occupational Safety and Health Administration outreach instructor, as well as a Mine Safety and Health Administration instructor, so those two credentials allow me to train in a variety of areas. Whenever I teach a class, I always begin by writing the word “Potential” on a whiteboard. I explain that there was a potential that they didn’t even make it to class that day. I stress that when we go to work, we need to be aware of the potential for hazards in the work place. I remind the class that they came to work that day and they need to be able to go home at the end of their shift.
Is there a specific injury or potential injury that changed how you thought about safety on the job?
Yes, in 2010, there was an arc flash and arc blast incident with two of our employees in Jacksonville, in which they received second-degree burns on their hands and faces. It was discovered that neither of the employees had their personal protective equipment on before the incident. This is when I started writing “Potential.”
What challenges do you face in managing safety responsibilities for your company?
The biggest challenge is keeping up with the client paperwork. Our clients use third-party groups such as ISNetworld and Avetta to check on our contractor qualifications. The clients dictate if a program needs to be added to the safety manual or if there needs to be changes to the coverage an insurance company provides for certain clients and particular jobs.
We also have to keep up with submitting reports to state and federal governmental agencies, not to mention reports required by our insurance company. It can be daunting at times.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic created new safety challenges?
Absolutely! We work all over Florida, Georgia and parts of North Carolina, so our workers are exposed to new people all the time—on job sites, in the hotels where they stay and in restaurants. We have implemented additional measures such as a COVID-19 safety program in addition to supplying hand sanitizers and masks.
Do you have advice for safety professionals?
First, take your job as a safety professional seriously—lives are on the line. Secondly, surround yourself with people who know and care about what they are doing.
I retired in 2017, but was asked to come back on a part-time basis just to keep up with the paperwork. We have two young men that have taken over the safety director duties and I am so proud that I get to work with them on a daily basis. Both of them are on board with the safety of Cogburn Bros. employees. Third, take advantage of the services available to you. Just sitting down with others in our profession and talking about what they are running up against helps everyone.