Kristine Cordell

Safety Hero

Kristine Cordell has been in the Environmental, Health, and Safety field for 12 years. She graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and is the co-founder of a learning center in Cambodia. Kris began her safety career in construction where she built a ground up safety program for a mid-sized general contractor.  

She has since moved into manufacturing where she has helped lead culture change resulting in reduced accident frequency and severity rates. Cordell also has experience in working with multicultural teams to create safety standards for a global company, and currently resides in Toledo, Ohio.

Why did you choose your profession?

Imagine a family struggling to make ends meet, with two parents working and doing what they can to make life better for their children. Now imagine if one of those parents gets permanently injured from work. There are now doctor appointments, workers’ compensation, attorneys calling, work calling and still a new family life dynamic  and bills that have to get paid.

This struggling family has to continue attempting to make ends meet with even less money and even more stress (because with permanent injuries the bills do not stop and your life has to readapt to whatever the injury may be). That is why I chose this profession, to help make sure that never happens.

What is the most important thing to do to be effective in your role?

Talk with and listen to the people. It’s the people who operate, work with, or manipulate the machinery/equipment that are the experts. That means they need to be included in, and part of the solutions that cross functional teams create. Too often I see “solutions” implemented without consulting the people that operate the machinery/equipment day to day, resulting in a less effective work space or an additional hazard.

Likewise, spending time talking with people also means I am spending time out on the floor getting a good sense of machinery/equipment (potential hazards or regulation requirements), environment (cleanliness and regulation requirements), morale/culture (behavior) all of which impact the level of safety in a facility.

Have you ever had an incident that changed you, and how did you approach it with your role?

I was working for a general contractor and we had subcontracted out the masonry work on a building. It was policy at that time if it was contracted out that the particular company was deemed the expert, and in that manner were left to preform their work from manpower to safety.

The masonry crew laid 6 courses of block and the next day continued to lay more courses on the same wall. Getting about 4 to 5 more courses on this green wall (a wall whose grout has not cured) before the wall collapsed. Worker’s jumped off scaffolding to avoid being buried in block. Most workers were uninjured, however two weren’t so fortunate. A father and a son, who lived, but received many broken bones.

It was a turning point for my mind-set about who is really responsible for safety: Everyone! Not just a company looking out for it’s own employees, which was the mind-set at the time. There were more than a couple trades who made comments about laying so many courses, and then continuing to build on a green wall but no one said anything to the masonry contractor.

No one took responsibility, though they had a clear sense about the danger, since the masonry contractor was the expert. It was then that I pushed the change in policy, that as a general contractor, management of the entire work site was first and foremost our responsibility. Of course this was before OSHA’s multi-employer work site. This drive sent new shock waves through our construction sites, but in a positive way. Workers were not only looking out for their colleagues but also other workers on site. 

What do you want everyone to know about safety?

Safety = Regulation x Behavior. In other words, safety is not just about the regulations. It’s also about our behavior. For example, if we take a set of stairs, the stairs may comply with regulations for the height of each step and guarding (or handrail). However, if we are going down the stairs while reading an email or texting, we are no longer looking at what we are doing or thinking about what we are doing.

This obviously increases the risk that we could miss a step or lose our balance and fall down the stairs, especially if we are not using the handrail.  This could happen even though the set of stairs meets regulatory requirements. Our injuries could range from bruises, to broken bones, to being paralyzed, or even death, which one is a spin of the reel.

If we consider the same scenario with the set of stairs, except this time we take away the regulation compliance, we get a different picture; the stairs are not evenly spaced, there is no guarding, and we are reading an email while descending. This increases even more our potential for extremely serious injuries. In this way, you can see why regulation is multiplied by behavior or visa versa.  Behavior and regulation are equally important, and without both a facility or work site cannot be truly safe.

What is your superpower? 

Creativity. I drawing with a variety of different mediums (pencil, marker, coal, paint, water color, etc). I building things, from sculptures to remodeling rooms in my home. I also helped build from the ground up (with a team of 11 other people from all different countries) a learning center in Cambodia. I really also enjoy coming up with simple yet creative solutions to problems that most people wouldn’t think of. This came in handy not only in Cambodia, but also is quite useful in my job as a safety manager. I also enjoy creating little songs (it’s just the singing part that gets me….and other people).  

Know A Safety Hero?

There are very real heroes walking among us – often going unrecognized…and these people are our Safety Heroes! Know someone who should be nominated as a Safety Hero? Click here to celebrate a hero that’s walking among us. 

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