What follows is the first part of a two part blog post: The first one will discuss the difficulties involved in recruiting and hiring a qualified safety manager, and the follow up post will discuss the fact that even if your company succeeds in making a hire, it won’t necessarily guarantee that your company will become nor maintain OSHA compliance. Both posts are based on my own internal company experiences as well as my experiences in the environmental, health & safety industry.

Disclaimer: This post isn’t intended to offend or upset any EHS professionals who may to read it. I’ll make some broad generalizations and sometimes critical statements, however keep in mind of a couple of things: any “stereotypical” or critical statements aren’t intended to apply to all EHS professionals, and the follow up post will take equal aim at ownership and senior leadership when discussing factors that contribute to and/or undermine the success of an EHS manager at any given company.

Part 1:

After finally realizing that neither I, nor my Operations or Office Manager could manage our OSHA compliance, I began the process of recruiting a full time, qualified safety manager for the company.

At first I was filled with optimism and looked forward to the sense of relief that would surely come once I made the hire and allowed that person to takeover our health and safety programs.   That initial sense of hope was soon replaced with frustration & stress as I came to realize the difficulty and scope of the endeavor. **Note that while this first experience involved hiring a “safety manager,” my post will also delve into the challenges surrounding recruiting of a more rounded environmental, health and safety manager.**

Here’s a brief summary of how things went during that first go around:

The frustration began as I tried to draft the job posting. How do you create a jop posting for a health and safety manager, when you’re not exactly sure what they’re supposed to do nor what qualifications and experience the candidate needs to have? I ended up searching other similar ads, and cherry picked whatever content sounded good. (Yes, very scientific!)

Once done, I posted the ad and eagerly awaited responses. What followed was an overwhelming stream of resumes that quickly clogged my inbox. As I began to review resumes, the frustration mounted. As with any recruiting process, I was presented with a wide range of candidates, some of whom had strong written communication skills and educational backgrounds, and many who didn’t. That’s to be expected, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the wide range of educational levels, industries, qualifications, skills and certifications that filled the resumes. It was overwhelming and confusing to say the least

Here’s a quick sampling of what I saw: (I refer to these as “hard qualification” considerations, but will discuss equally important “soft qualifications” issues in a moment):

Health & Safety Credentials Included:

OSHA 500, OSHA 501, OSHA 510, OSHA 511, OSHA Outreach trainer.

The word “certified” came up over and over again: Safeland certified, Hazwoper certified, DOT hazardous materials certified, IATA certified, “OSHA certified.”

I saw lots of certification acronyms included CSP, CIH, OHST, CHSM, but had no idea what any of them meant (but I do now).

Environmental Experience Credentials included:

Hazardous Waste Management, RCRA, Stormwater, SPCC, SWPPP.

Formal education ranged from undergraduate & graduate degrees from accredited well known universities (although very few), to 2 year “associate health & safety degrees,” often from “on-line” universities, to HS diplomas or less.

Then came the wide range of industries that candidates came from: oil and gas, offshore, maritime, construction, general industry, manufacturing, mines, & energy.

I literally had no idea what to make of it all, nor how to proceed and a temporary paralysis took hold.   After a week or so I regrouped, pressed on and began emailing and calling the candidates who appeared to be the best fit. Looking back, it was a real “crap shoot” but over time, and after many mistakes and several years on, I began to get it….

Here’s what I eventually figured out: There are basically 5 different types of environmental, health and safety candidates/professionals available in the marketplace and here they are:

  • Safety Technician: These candidates are relatively inexperienced “newbies” who often lack extensive formal education or training, but make up for it with their “boots on the ground” experience. They’re often originally “tradesman” who over time discovered an interest in health and safety, for a wide variety of         reasons, and over time transitioned away from their “craft” career towards a safety career path. Often times, they’ve been promoted from within their company to help manage OSHA compliance for that company. This is often their “launch pad” into their health and safety career path. Despite their lack of formal education and training, they’re often very good at identifying health and safety hazards in their workplace, and skilled at coordinating with co-workers (or subcontractors) to correct them. Most often, this is their primary responsibility and experience area (hazard identification and correction). On the training delivery side, they often lack extensive experience with formal OSHA standards training (Hazcom, Fall Protection, etc.), but may have experience delivering basic “orientation” or “tailgate” training sessions.
  • Road Warrior: These candidates can include “technician” level professionals, but more often consist of more experienced and trained professionals. I’ve found that technician level professionals often transition into becoming “road warriors” after gaining industry experience, and do so because the willingness to travel translates into much higher income potential. They’re often OSHA certified outreach trainers and/or have “associate” safety degrees (often from on-line “universities”), and have extensive experience managing safety issues on temporary projects and which can include conducting in-depth safety training. They’r often referred to as “road warriors” because their resumes include many consecutive, relatively short term, “project” assignments all over the country. The projects often consist of large construction projects, refinery or power plant upgrades or “turnarounds,” or large energy projects like wind or solar projects.   One common downside of “road warrior” candidates is their compensation expectations. Road warriors are often paid high hourly rates, with lots of overtime, plus “high dollar per diem,” which adds up to a very nice income. Problems arise when they respond to your “local” position, where they get to sleep in their own bed every night, yet somehow expect the same high compensation levels they recieved while working on the road. Iv’e seen this scenario play out over and over and over again and it never fails to baffle me!
  • EHS generalists: These candidates typically have strong formal educational backgrounds, including bachelor and graduate degrees from accredited, traditional universities. Their degrees are typically technical and often include the words “environmental,” or “public health,” but not always. Believe it or not, there are very few focussed 4 year or graduate health and safety degree programs in the US so you’ll rarely see a 4 year or graduate degree with the words “health & safety” in the title. More often than not, these candidates come from a manufacturing background where they were responsible for managing all 3 aspects of compliance: environmental, health and safety.   Due to the wide range of responsibilities, they’re often more skilled and focussed on one aspect of EHS compliance than the other (health/safety vs environmental). Most are better at health and safety compliance, and often end up simply “managing” environmental compliance issues such as air permits, storm water permits, hazardous waste management, etc. In other words, they often know how to manage an existing permit or program, but often lack experience actually implementing or drafting these permits or programs.
  • EHS Program manager: These candidates are typically very experienced “generalists” who over time progressed into senior level EHS Program Manager roles for larger companies who often have entire EHS departments. These professionals are often responsible for a broad range of environmental, health and safety compliance issues for large companies who have major related exposures and liabilities, and often have multiple reports working under them. I won’t go into any more detail for the purposes of this blog post, other than to say that these candidates typically aren’t a good fit for small companies because they’re often years removed from “boots on the ground” compliance (employee training, inspections, etc.), and have grown accustomed to delegating these basic responsibilities.
  • Environmental specialists: As the name implies, these candidates are very good at environmental compliance. They’re often able to do things like create new source review and even Title V air permits (and manage them), draft Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) and Spill Prevention Control & Countermeasure plans (SPCC), and manage them, etc.. As you might imagine, they’re typically very educated and often have graduate degrees in some environmental realm, which they’ve adapted into a career in industry. Again, these candidates often aren’t a great fit for small companies who often don’t have enough environmental compliance challenges to keep them busy, motivated and interested.

The vast majority of the resumes I received fell into the first two categories, but that didn’t make things any easier for me at the time. I still had to sort through and learn what everything meant, and then decide who to contact for interviews. Not knowing any better, I initially chose to whittle down the herd by sending out a basic email asking simple things like compensation expectations, available start dates, whether or not they currently lived in or could relocate to Austin, etc.. (This is actually an effective tactic that I often continue to use today) Once I sorted through the responses and narrowed the pool, I began the process of interviewing over the phone. Not really knowing how to properly assess “hard qualifications,” I focussed on trying to determine their level of “professionalism” through communication styles, comments, answers to my questions, attitudes, etc..

By the time the process was complete, what ended up happening was “hiring decision by process of elimination.” In other words, what began as a huge pile of complicated resumes, quickly dwindled down to just a few viable candidates due to practical issues like compensation, availability, first impressions, etc.. Although “hard qualifications” played a role, they were much less of a final determining factor than I would have initially guessed, or wanted.

I ended up hiring a guy who seemed to have decent ‘hard qualifications,” interviewed well and was available to start work when I needed him and lived near by. Unfortunately he didn’t end up being a good long term fit, so I found myself repeating the entire process all over again and that wasn’t the last time………

Since that first hire back in 2008, I’ve hired many more EHS & safety managers for various roles within my present and past businesses.   Although I’ve become much better at categorizing and vetting candidates, it’s never been more difficult to find quality, well rounded candidates. I attribute this to the strong economy that’s persisted in TX for years, but also to the fact that demand for qualified EHS professionals far exceeds current supply.   Based on my own experiences, and industry data, this challenge probably won’t change any time soon, if ever..

(For those who are interested, I’m in the process of re-purposing much of this same content into a separate blog post titled: How To Recruit & Hire An Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Manager. Check back soon…)

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