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Profile of a Successful Safety Professional

You as a Safety Professional
by ckilbourne

Find out what inspires and challenges this safety and health professional to lead her organization toward continually improving safety performance.

As a safety and health professional, it’s likely that you’re the only “you” at your site or facility. Even in companies with large corporate safety organizations, OSH personnel are typically distributed across the business.

In an effort to help rev up your professional motor, therefore, we introduce you to two successful and inspirational individuals—one today, and another in tomorrow’s Advisor.

We can all learn from their examples and benchmark our own strategies against their successes.

Meet Tara Falin, Cummins, Inc.

It seems appropriate that Tara Falin is in the power business. The energetic young professional is health, safety, and environmental (HSE) lead for Cummins, Inc., a global leader in engines and related technologies.

Falin has learned a lot about the safety and health business in more than a decade in the field. One of the first lessons she learned is that the buck stops—or should stop—with the site safety leader.

Early in her career, when she was holding down the fort because the plant manager was away, a knock on the door brought city regulators to her facility. Falin was shocked when she was actually named on a citation because she had been in charge at the time.

“I learned quickly that when you have a title and you’re sitting in the seat as the person in charge, you have to truly own it.”


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Owning a position means being decisive and taking responsibility. It also means saying no when a practice or procedure may put employees at risk.

“I’m a bit tough,” says Falin. “Some people call me the piranha around here.” She acknowledges that employees may sometimes question her decisions, but most important is never having to make the call to tell a family member about an injury or fatality.

Mentoring and Networking

Falin is a big believer in mentoring and networking. At the start her career, she immediately joined a local chapter of American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and has been active ever since.

“Even though I have counterparts in Cummins, sometimes it’s nice to have another set of eyes. I can ask other [ASSE] members for help with a particular issue or struggle.”

Falin has also extended her network by becoming a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a tough, but rewarding, process she highly recommends.

Networking is especially important for those new to the profession, says Falin. Many young people are sent to relatively small or remote outposts for their first assignments. The experience can be isolating unless they find ways to stay connected to others in the field.

Selling Safety

Successful safety professionals also need to constantly sell safety up and down the chain. Falin says that could mean justifying to company executives the value and anticipated return from, for example, installing new machine controls.

“But it’s not just about higher management, it’s also about selling on the shop floor. For example, I may have to explain to employees why, even though they’ve always done something a certain way, they now have to do it differently because it’s safer.”

And sometimes it goes the other way, and Falin finds that she’s the “voice of the people.” Then she has to advocate employee needs and protection back to upper management, which is yet another type of selling.


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Bull By the Horns

Asked about big wins, Falin cites the effort to get employees at Cummins’ Seymour, Indiana, site engaged and actively working for their own safety.

“When I started here, we had no safety committee and the worst safety record in our business unit. We were ‘red flagged’ following each monthly corporate audit.”

Falin brought together a crossfunctional council of unionized employees (the plant has two unions). She worked with them to develop a list of what they were satisfied with and what they wanted changed in the area of safety.

The council, which named itself Seymour Safety Solutions, began to meet monthly with plant safety staff. One component of every meeting was a discussion of issues that have not been resolved.

Another initiative is a competitive program, known as Race to Safety Excellence Awards, which gives teams “miles” for activities like completing safety training, completing a monthly safety checklist, holding team meetings, completing near-miss reports, and finding and fixing hazards. Miles can be deducted for failure to report hazards and other infractions.

Although Falin acknowledges that there is much room for improvement, the plant has seen a dramatic reversal. In 2008, the incident rate was 3.2. Today, it’s 0.69. She credits behavioral changes such as reporting hazards and near misses.

“We continue to work on the mindset that says, ‘We’ve done things this way in the past, and nothing has happened.’”

Changing behaviors by changing attitudes is an important page in Falin’s playbook. Her approach—stay tough, win management support, and involve workers at all levels.

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