Given below is an interview with Mark Hansen, former president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and current National Director of Risk Control, Oil & Gas, for St. Paul Travelers in Houston, Texas.
In this interview, Hansen uses his wealth of professional experience and involvement with the ASSE to address future challenges for the safety profession and to offer advice to those pursuing a career in safety. He also describes the challenges he faces in his current position and how he works with his staff and clients to overcome them.
Learn to Make the Most of a Career in Safety
As a former president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), how do you stay active within the society today?
I am currently the chair of the Business of Safety Committee (BoSC) where we have assembled a very good cross-section of members to explore tools, case studies and resource materials to assist our members in viewing safety from a business standpoint. I will instruct a one-day, post-conference seminar on the Business of Safety at the Professional Development Conference (PDC) in New Orleans, Louisiana in June.
I am also the chair of the Ergonomics Task Force as a result of the alliance between the ASSE and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). As chair, I ensure that the vision and mission of the task force continue to match our original agreements with OSHA. We try to keep a fair mix of members on the task force who have an adequate knowledge of ergonomics. We have assembled a group of members to develop ways to better implement ergonomics in the workplace.
How did your experience as president of the ASSE prepare you for your current occupation?
Technically, it helped me locate support resources. Administratively, it helped me with strategic goal setting, time management and delegation. Professionally, it provided me with numerous contacts and colleagues who have since become good friends.
What do you consider to be your greatest challenge in your position at St. Paul Travelers? How do you address this challenge?
I consider the greatest challenge to be change. The only constant in today's business environment is change. A close second is adaptability. Change requires adaptability—you cannot do one without the other. I look at all changes positively. If you do not focus on the positive side, you become wrapped up in the negative, which can sap the energy right out of any organization.
Focusing on the positive side of change results in contentment. I am truly happy where I am in the organization, and I am fortunate to be part of such a large, diverse and competent staff of professionals. No question goes unanswered here without the right expertise coming to bear on the issue.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your position at St. Paul Travelers?
My answer is two-fold. First, I thoroughly enjoy working with the staff and underwriters. We are really more like a family than a work group.
Second, I enjoy bringing the collective experience of our staff to clients to eliminate and control exposures. The span of impact is tremendous when compared to working for one company.
How do you convince your clients to implement safe work practices?
Quite simply, by understanding the business, we sell the business impact to the bottom line by adding value to the operation.
How are safe work practices promoted within St. Paul Travelers?
We have attendant personal protective equipment (PPE) for all of our worksites, we drive defensively, and we make sure not to drive while talking on a cell phone. We also have a driver accountability program as well as a host of other programs.
What are your views on safety engineering versus safety management with respect to oil and gas?
Safety engineering has made great strides toward the elimination of exposures to physical hazards. However, due to the nature of the industry, complete elimination is unlikely unless 100% automation can be implemented. Therefore, safety management is necessary when using controls, procedures, training, PPE and warnings to provide barriers to these physical hazard exposures.
What do you believe are key challenges for safety professionals in the short- and long-term?
In the short-term, I believe that safety professionals should stay abreast of:
Regulatory and legislative changes
The added value of Safety, Health and Environmental (SH&E)
In the long-term, I believe that safety professionals should focus on:
The global impact of SH&E
Envisioning the future
Integrating with corporate leaders
Becoming business people who know safety rather than safety people who do not know business
What do you believe are the top contributors to a successful safety career?
Top contributors to a successful safety career include:
Knowing what you do not know
Knowing colleagues who know what you do not know
Networking with colleagues who know what you do not know
A good educational background
Appropriate credentials and licenses
Investing in your career
Giving back to your profession
What advice would you give to those who are pursuing a career in safety today?
Those who are pursuing a career in safety should:
Obtain a degree that includes engineering in the course work
Get involved with a local chapter
Meet regularly with a mentor
Network at every conference
Acquire as many credentials as possible
Continually invest in your career
Learn how to perform, administrate and delegate
Understand that 20 years of experience cannot be crammed into a six-month job stint in a particular area
Understand organizational dynamics
Care about employees in your workplace
Be content where you are and give 100%
What do you believe are the benefits of joining the ASSE and of potentially becoming a volunteer?
As a member of the ASSE, you have the opportunity to learn about new things that you may not deal with on a daily basis. This is the primary thrust of the ASSE. If you can come away a little smarter on a particular topic, then the ASSE has been successful. Other member benefits include:
If your boss or co-workers ask you a safety-related question that you do not know the answer to, you can call someone who does, and colleagues can often give you answers on the spot. If you can resolve the question with an informed answer, you will look like a true professional.
Since safety is such a vast profession, no one can know everything. So knowing people who do helps all of us to survive. Safety professionals are brokers of information, and they give it freely. I am a member of numerous professional organizations, but only ASSE members give information so freely. It is one of your best resources.
This is different from networking, but it is closely related. As an involved member of the ASSE, you are allowed to hear things that are never put in print.
There are three kinds of people in this world—those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder, “What happened?” If you fall into the first category, you will definitely be more successful. If you are a consultant, it is important to be able to speak intelligently about current events in the safety business to potential clients. If you work in safety and you do not know what is happening in your field, you look unprofessional.
There is no more perfect place to network and to find jobs than within the ASSE. Many safety jobs never appear in the want ads because those in the network find out about them first and apply before the companies have had a chance to advertise. These usually are the best jobs.
If you apply for a job before it goes public, there is little competition. If you apply for a job in the Sunday paper, you must compete with hundreds of applicants. You make the choice.
I am not referring to asking your colleagues for business at meetings, but you should have a presence and let people know who you are and what you do can help. If you give a technical presentation related to your occupation, then you are educating rather than selling. Many safety professionals attend meetings to look for experts in particular areas, but if you are not there, how can you make yourself available?
If you take the next step and volunteer for a committee or get elected to an office, you open yourself up to this new list of benefits:
Become Part of the Process
You will have an opportunity to see how the ASSE operates and to make suggestions to improve the society's processes.
Participate in an Elected Position
If you like what you do and are good at it, you may be elected to an office or committee. At this level, you can learn more about how your organization and the ASSE operate, and you will have the chance to network with more members. In my chapter, I helped to organize a symposium on software safety. When it was finished, I knew four to five times more people, which included both software safety experts as well as professionals interested in software safety. I also learned what is involved in organizing a symposium.
The world today lacks true leaders, leaders with character and conviction. Your chapter is a great training ground for those who have that calling, and it provides a great opportunity because there are so many people to help.
Give Back to the Society
Giving back to an organization can be very enriching. You can volunteer your time and efforts to the society by helping to coordinate meetings and by developing plans that may save members funds and time.
So take advantage of these benefits and volunteer!
Mark Hansen is the National Director of Risk Control, Oil & Gas, for St. Paul Travelers in Houston, Texas, and he has over twenty years of experience in the field. Hansen is a licensed professional engineer, and he holds certifications in safety and ergonomics. He received a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a master of science degree in industrial engineering, specializing in safety, both from Texas A&M University.
A former president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Hansen held several other elected positions on the Board of Directors. He has authored over 100 technical publications, and he has published a book on career development titled Out of the Box: Skills for Developing Your Own Career Path , which was released in April 2002. He currently has several other books in development, including Getting to the Corner Office , The Business of Safety and Software Safety: The Last Frontier .
Hansen received the Edgar-Queeny Monsanto Safety Professional of the Year Award for 1992-1993 and the ASSE's Culbertson Outstanding Volunteer Service Award for 1991-1992.