I caught up with Jerry McGlynn, CESCP, CHST, STSC, vice president of field operations and safety at McWilliams Electric in Schaumburg, Ill., and asked him why he entered the profession, how he promotes sound safety practices within his organization and other intriguing tidbits that he has learned throughout his two-decade career.
Q: Why did you pursue the safety position you currently hold?
A: In 1998, right out of college, I started teaching at a training program for airplane predeparture screeners for United and Lufthansa, before TSA. I would train them on how to properly screen passengers. As an American Red Cross-authorized instructor, I also trained them in first aid and CPR.
I told myself, “Hey, I can do this. I feel comfortable standing in front of people teaching them about safety.” The business of construction also appealed to me, particularly the electrical contracting industry.
Then in 1999, I became the first full-time safety director for McWilliams Electric. I also enjoy sharing why safety is important and the reasons behind why safety matters. All of my students and the workers who work for us have families who depend on them, not just for paychecks, but to come home safely at the end of the day. It is incredibly gratifying to know that workers are safer on the job because of the work that I do.
Q: How have the electrical industry and safety programs changed in the last 20 years?
A: I can remember back in 1999 when I called my safety supplier and asked for pricing on flame-resistant clothing. The response I got was, “I have to get back to you.” He, like many suppliers, was not familiar with NFPA 70E and needed to be educated on the standard and what it was that I was asking for.
Today, suppliers know about NFPA 70E and its requirements to protect people from arc flash and arc blast. They now sell kits for the four different [personal protective equipment] categories. In 1999, I had to build my own kits.
The clothing material available today is a lot more comfortable to wear. They have shirts and jeans available today that you cannot tell are arc-rated unless you look at the tag. I tell my qualified employees that if they are doing justified energized work, dress for the occasion. You would not wear a windbreaker in a winter storm. Do not wear flammable clothing in front of live gear.
Q: What challenges do you face in managing safety responsibilities for an electrical contractor?
A: The biggest challenge is creating a “Safety Always” environment. Tough guys, near-misses and rushing to get the job done compete with a Safety Always environment. McWilliams has made safety a core value, equal to budget and productivity.
I tell my workers that they can just call me anytime if they have any concerns and ask me to come out and take a look at the issue. This “open cellphone” policy gets workers off the hook for reporting issues directly because they don’t want to be seen as the tattletale.
But there are near-misses or even trips before workers even call me.
A lot of times, workers are afraid to report issues, so giving people knowledge about safety issues and the proper training is important.
Q: Do you have any advice for new safety professionals entering this field?
A: There is a famous quote out there: “Never stop learning.” Once you’re out in the field, don’t think that you know everything.
The first step would be to become an OSHA-authorized outreach instructor. This keeps you up to date with OSHA’s laws and regulations.
The next steps would be to get a lot of field experience and letters behind your name. This helps build your credibility with management and workers. The three additional certifications I have are through NFPA and Board of Certified Safety Professionals. NFPA provides an electrical industry specific certification called CESPC and the BCSP has created CHST and STSC, which provide a more general construction certification.
Also, as a safety professional, you should have management buy-in. Industry certifications help you show management and workers that you know the state of the art in safety specific to construction and electrical contracting.