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Benjamin D. Agley is the ASSE Foundation’s 2009 Practice Specialty PDC Scholarship winner. In this interview, he explains why he has decided to pursue a career in occupational safety and outlines his goals for after graduation.

Why have you decided to pursue a career in occupational safety?

I have grown to love the safety professional’s goal of doing whatever it takes to ensure that employees’ well-being is protected at work. However, when I began school, I chose safety mostly on happenstance. My father has been a public health professor for nearly 39 years. My older brother also attained a Ph.D. in public health. I liked the idea of going through a public health route but decided my family had already covered that area of expertise. When I browsed other courses in the Applied Health Sciences department, I came across safety science and decided to try it out. I have no regrets and only positive experiences from this career path. I am excited to finish my undergraduate degree next spring.

How did you hear about the Practice Specialty PDC Scholarship?

My advisor and two of my professors informed me of the many scholarship opportunities provided to graduate and undergraduate students by various donors through ASSE. Applying for scholarships was quick and painless, not to mention rewarding! If you are unsure what you qualify for or if you want to apply for several different scholarships, it is all the same process. You complete one form, and those who review the applications match your qualifications to all possible scholarships.

Do you know in which specific industry you would like to work?

My knowledge base is narrow when it comes to all the different industries I could work in, and given that, I have not yet taken the time to really brainstorm an industry setting I would prefer. My interests are less focused on a type of industry but rather on the company itself. I view a company’s safety culture and/or willingness to improve relations between employees at all levels, with safety as a main priority, as more important than whether I must always wear a self-contained breathing apparatus tank on my back due to the imminent danger of a chemical leak.

How has the school/college environment affected your views on workplace safety and health?

I never held much of a view on workplace safety and health before I began college and declared safety science as my major. The extent of my knowledge was a vague awareness that the government enforced regulations and that companies hired safety persons to comply with those regulations.

While in college, I have learned many things that affect my views about workplace safety. The most pertinent is the apparent disconnect between the perceived will of safety advocates and the actual goodwill that exists. As I began my safety classes, I quickly found that many companies and employees see safety in a negative light and that changing a company’s safety culture is usually a long and arduous process. I also view a safety professional’s job much more highly, as it involves much more dedication and investment than I had imagined.

From my professors’ experiences, as well as from my own discernment and understanding of peoples’ motivation, it is necessary to build and maintain a meaningful relationship between members at all levels within an organization to see true success in changing the way safety is viewed. It seems like a daunting task to accomplish, but if you can build relationships with others based on genuine goodwill, then their motivation will come internally as well as externally, which is the only way people will choose to invest in a safety culture.

Was there any belief you had about occupational safety that has changed since you attended Safety 2009 in San Antonio?

Before attending Safety 2009, I held the belief that safety professionals flew solo, so to speak. I was surprised to find such a collective concern for the well-being of others within ASSE. I admit I did not know what to expect when I came to San Antonio, but the involvement and dedication everyone had for their jobs was beyond what I expected. Seeing so many professionals seek to learn and improve upon tools for success, as well as share their own experiences with others, was very reassuring to me as a future safety and health professional.

How was your experience at Safety 2009? What did you gain from the conference?

I had a great time at Safety 2009. I had never been to any sort of professional development conference or national conference of any kind, so this was a good experience for me. I enjoyed meeting various safety professionals and hearing about their jobs. I also enjoyed meeting the wonderful people who lead the Council on Practices and Standards from whom I received my award. The change in belief is also something I gained from the conference.

Have you received any other safety-related awards or recognition during your academic career?

This was the first safety-related award of my career.

How do you think the safety industry will change in the future? How do you think technology will affect safety practices?

That is a tough question for me to answer. I am not very keen on speculating about the future since the future usually winds up far different than I imagine it; however, I will try to give a reasonable guess about technology’s impact in the future.

For the most part, I think the safety industry will benefit tremendously from more technological advances and involvement. The Internet alone allows information flow at incredible speeds to people all around the world. Safety professionals are able network with greater ease and efficiency, and new safety innovations are created continually with new technologies. My hope, not really a guess, is that the person-to-person relationships that help define effective safety systems do not change with increasing technology. Without safety becoming a motivation for all employees by their own will, then even the most well-intentioned safety implementations coming from new technologies may only be a top-down forced incentive for company employees. Employees may never understand or desire to get involved because the implementations will feel like unexplained obligatory rules that come with their job. I do not wish to sound negative whatsoever, but it is safer to assume the worst of possibilities and watch for them before they take root than to ignore the possibility of them happening altogether.

What do you hope to accomplish from here?

I will complete my senior year at Indiana University of Bloomington. Beyond that, given the current state of the economy, I will search for a job and look into graduate programs. As long as I am able to apply myself toward serving others to help improve their lives, I cannot say it matters much what specific accomplishments I have and in which industry.

What do you enjoy most about safety practices?

I most enjoy showing employees they have value above production and also that they can work hard and efficiently while being proactive with safety.

Benjamin D. Agley
Benjamin D. Agley, a senior at Indiana University of Bloomington, is the ASSE Foundation’s 2009 Practice Specialty PDC Scholarship winner. He will receive an undergraduate degree in safety science in the spring of 2010.