Vol. 12, No. 1

James W. Smirles, P.E., CSP

50 Years & Counting

With his 52 years of ASSE membership—and counting—James W. Smirles, P.E., CSP, is still going strong. In addition to past accolades and positions—SPY recipient, Culbertson Award recipient, past ASSE Greater Chicago Chapter president, past ASSE Board of Directors member, author and lecturer—he is an active emeritus professional member of the Greater Chicago Chapter and a member of ASSE’s Risk Management/Insurance (RM/I) Practice Specialty. Smirles began his safety career in 1952, as a Kemper employee. Fifty-five years later, he still says he’s “proud to be a safety engineer.”

Smirles was recently honored by the Greater Chicago Chapter for his ongoing commitment to the SH&E profession and ASSE. Upon receiving the award, Smirles said, “I have great respect for the safety profession. . . . as safety and health professionals we do not always recognize that we really have the best return on investment of any industry. We are in the business of saving lives.”

Looking back, Smirles notes many changes within the SH&E profession, some of which involve the responsibilities of the SH&E professionals and how they sell the product of safety, specifically to upper management. He says today there seem to be more disciplines within the industry, noting that in the past, it was more of safety inspection and trying to identify potential hazards. Today, he says, there are more implications, such as environmental or financial aspects that professionals are being trained to handle. “Before, in the ‘50s, there was a fire inspector engineer, a boiler engineer, an industrial engineer. Now, people are becoming cross-trained. With continuing education courses everyone is cross-trained in different disciplines, which is something that has greatly changed,” he says. Smirles also adds that communication has become a greater factor within the industry. “The safety professional has the greatest product in the world to sell,” he says.

Smirles has learned to communicate effectively through ASSE experiences and opportunities. He credits his success in the SH&E field to ASSE’s continuing education and networking opportunities. “If I wasn’t a member, there’s no way I would have been able to do a third of the things I’ve done,” he says.

Among his accomplishments, Smirles says he’s very proud of his involvement as chairman of the Special Exhibit Ad Hoc Committee, which recommended adding exhibits to the 1984 ASSE Professional Development Conference. In addition to receiving the Culbertson and SPY awards from ASSE, Smirles points to receiving Risk and Insurance Management Society’s (RIMS) most prestigious award, the Goodel award, which recognizes a person who furthers the goals of risk management and RIMS through outstanding achievement, as another proud accomplishment. He attributes this honor to his ASSE training, which advanced his knowledge of loss control/risk management.

“The safety profession continues to be the most challenging and interesting career anyone can get into because you deal with every level of society—top management, residents, politicians. You have the greatest future in the world if you tackle it right,” he says. “It’s the greatest field there is.”