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SPY Award Interview with Keith Vidal & Émer ÓBroin

Each year, the Edgar Monsanto Queeny Safety Professional of the Year (SPY) Award recognizes an American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) member who has advanced the safety, health and environmental (SH&E) profession and who has demonstrated strong leadership within the Society.

The SPY Award winner receives a statuette, pin and check during the ASSE’s annual Professional Development Conference (PDC). Starting next year, the winner’s check amount will be increased to $2,000.

In this article, the 2006 SPY Award winner, Keith Vidal, founder of Vidal Engineering Inc., shares his thoughts on receiving this honor, and Émer ÓBroin, Vice President of Environmental, Safety and Health at Monsanto Company, explains the history of and Monsanto’s connection to the SPY Award.

On April 16, 1947, the French freighter S.S. Grandcamp exploded in Galveston Bay, Texas. This explosion destroyed Monsanto’s Texas City plant and killed 512 people, including 145 Monsanto employees. Edgar Monsanto Queeny, son of the founder of Monsanto Company, served as the third president of the company at the time. According to Émer ÓBroin, the current Vice President of Environmental, Safety and Health at Monsanto, the accident “motivated Queeny to make safety an even more important part of the company’s culture. Today, Monsanto’s commitment to safety in its worldwide operations is a reflection of Queeny’s aim to protect employees from industrial accidents and health hazards.”

To honor Queeny’s memory and to promote excellence in the field of occupational safety and health, Monsanto and the ASSE instituted the Edgar Monsanto Queeny Safety Professional of the Year (SPY) Award in 1979. Monsanto sponsors the SPY Award, which is conferred annually at the ASSE’s Professional Development Conference. ÓBroin considers Monsanto’s sponsorship of the SPY Award in conjunction with the ASSE a “natural fit.” “The ASSE is the oldest professional safety organization in the country. Its core commitment is to protect people, property and the environment. Monsanto shares that same commitment, as safety is an integral part of our culture. It is the key to Monsanto’s continued operations in the global community,” she says.

The professional achievements of the 2006 SPY Award winner, Keith Vidal, no doubt reflect this commitment to safety. Vidal, who holds both bachelor and master of science degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska, began his career as a staff engineer at a forensic consulting firm in St. Louis, Missouri, where his responsibilities included investigations and analyses of mechanical, corrosive and material failures, automobile, truck and motorcycle accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, industrial accidents and product safety analysis.

He was promoted to Vice President of Engineering in 1993 before he moved on to form his own company, Vidal Engineering, in 1995. “At Vidal Engineering, I specialize in consulting with manufacturers of slip resistance-related products, safety and claims management professionals, maintenance and housekeeping organizations, insurance companies and attorneys,” says Vidal. He is also a member of several ASTM committees that are involved with pedestrian safety, including:

  • Committee F13—Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear (Chair of the Traction Subcommittee (F13.10))
  • Committee C21—Ceramic White Wares and Related Products
  • D21—Polishes
  • F6—Resilient Floor Coverings
  • F15—Consumer Products

In addition, he is the Chair of the ANSI Accredited Standards Committee A1264 on Safety Requirements for Workplace Floor and Wall Openings, Stairs and Railing Systems, which oversees the ANSI A1264.2 standard “Provision of Slip Resistance on Walking/Working Surfaces,” a past Chair of the ASSE’s Standards Development Committee and a past member of the Society’s Government Affairs Committee.

Vidal considers the SPY Award to be one of the “pinnacles” of his life. “I know there are others out there who have committed themselves to making our world safer and are as deserving, if not more, of this award as I am. I would encourage them to take the necessary steps to receive recognition for their contributions. I am also proud to be a member of a Society that holds paramount the concerns for health, safety and the environment. Receiving this award only further encourages me to make the world a safer place to walk, work and live,” he explains.

Given the 1947 accident in Galveston Bay, the SPY Award carries special significance for Monsanto as well. Says ÓBroin, “The SPY Award means much to us because it recognizes safety excellence and reminds us of the impact safety can have on our communities.”

The improvements made to Monsanto’s own safety program since the tragic accident have had a positive influence on occupational safety and health worldwide. “The Texas City event demonstrated the impact that an industrial accident can have, and it helped invigorate Monsanto’s commitment to the safety of our employees, our customers and the communities to which we belong. Today, safety is a core value for Monsanto because we know it is central to our privilege to operate in the communities in which we are located,” continues ÓBroin.

Monsanto actively promotes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) among its United States sites, and the VPP principles have been applied to Monsanto’s other sites around the world through the Monsanto Star program. Notes ÓBroin, “Currently, 32 Monsanto sites in the United States have earned VPP Star certification, and 61 sites outside the United States have earned a similar certification through third-party accreditation organizations.”

“Monsanto is also heavily involved in promoting safety in the communities it serves,” she adds. For example, Monsanto has:

  • Established Community Advisory Panels for its chemical plant sites as well as active participation in the Local Emergency Planning Committees and Community Action and Response Committees
  • Developed and implemented a World-Class Vehicle Safety Program and has helped customers and other industries develop similar programs
  • Developed and implemented field safety programs for seasonal migrant workers
  • Provided safety training for neighboring farm workers in South Africa

And thanks to incentives like the SPY Award, SH&E professionals are better able to initiate changes, much like those described above, that improve workplace safety.

During the next year, Vidal hopes to “provide inspiration, guidance and wisdom to a younger generation of aspiring safety professionals.” “As a SPY Award winner, I will use any and all appropriate opportunities I recognize to influence, inspire and motivate others toward a safer world. With some help and faith, I think younger generations need a refreshed approach to reach this goal,” he says.

Vidal suggests that those who wish to apply for the 2007 SPY Award should “try to be the very best at whatever you do and contribute to the safety profession in a way that you, your family and the people with whom you work view as your legacy.”

For Monsanto, the SPY Award winner “should be a highly respected professional who is seen as a leader among his or her peers,” says ÓBroin. “This person is recognized as a safety resource at his or her organization and is willing to share his or her knowledge with others while still continuing to improve the safety profession. This person should have reached significant achievement in the safety profession. The winner should be someone who thinks of safety as an ongoing process, not as a one-time occurrence, and who understands that this continued vigilance leads to saved lives and goodwill among employees. The winner should also understand that operating safely, on a daily basis, earns the trust of the community, and in turn, the privilege to continue doing business in that location.”

Since most of the ASSE membership already exhibits many of these qualities, there should be no shortage of eligible SPY Award candidates next year.

Keith Vidal

During the five years Keith Vidal served as the ASSE’s Standards Development Committee Chair, he spearheaded the development of numerous national safety standards and elevated the ASSE from the secretariat of four ANSI standards to the secretariat of nine. As a past member of the ASSE’s Government Affairs Committee, Vidal participated in key legislative and regulatory planning.

A specialist in the investigation and analysis of slip, trip and fall prevention, Vidal critiqued many articles submitted to Professional Safety Journal, the ASSE’s monthly magazine. The studies and papers he has presented at conferences are used as reference guides in fall reduction program and development training. He also regularly participates in scientific symposiums and expositions in his mission to evaluate and enhance pedestrian safety.

Vidal, a University of Nebraska alumnus, is the founder and owner of Vidal Engineering, L.C. in St. Louis, Missouri. He currently works as a consultant and continues to develop codes and set standards.

Emer ÓBroin

Émer ÓBroin is the Vice President of Environmental, Safety and Health at Monsanto Company.

Prior to this role, ÓBroin was Director of Manufacturing Operations, Latin America. Previously, she was Director of Manufacturing Operations, Asia Pacific and Manager, Glyphosate Technical Manufacturing. ÓBroin joined Monsanto in 1980 and has held a range of positions with increasing responsibility in manufacturing. She has worked at three different manufacturing plants, had two international assignments and has been associated with six different divisions, including Agriculture, Phosphates, Rubber Chemicals and Animal Science.

ÓBroin holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from West Virginia University and a master of business administration degree in international business from St. Louis University. She serves as Monsanto’s executive contact for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and is on the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) Advisory Board. She also is the Secretary-Treasurer for the Board of Directors of the Wildlife Habitat Council.