Steven Mercer ASP, OHST, ASHM, CSHO, CRIS is a Site HSE Manager at Helix Electric. Mercer does it all, from managing HSE projects, strategies, and functions at Tesla’s new GigaFactory, to directing HSE site personnel, to monitoring and addressing incidents and accidents. His proactive and hands-on approach to Safety Leadership makes him the perfect Safety Hero.
Mercer is also responsible for maintaining communication between Helix and other onsite contractors, conducting onsite inspections of compartmentalized Safety performance, and for maintaining a high level of communication between site PM, Superintendents, and Leads. He works to ensure routine safety audits are conducted, verified and disseminated. His passions lie in creating proactive, safety first cultures.
Why did you choose your profession?
My path to safety was a progression. Over twelve and a half years I was in a loss prevention role, and a third of that role consisted of being safety related. So, it was only a natural progression moving into safety full time.
What is the most important thing to do to be effective in your role?
Coaching and communication is key when you are a safety professional.
Here’s a story: I had worked for safety for other companies and I went over to Afghanistan back in 2008. I was sitting there at a desk and we had just had an incident…My manager at the time—he had worked for NASA and a lot of other major player companies—and he asked me to type him up an incident report. So, I typed him up the report, and sent it to him.
He was sitting right next to me and just looked over at me and said “you know what, you’re not even at ‘first base’ in safety.” That right there showed me that I still have a long way to go in the safety field.
If you look at safety as a baseball field, you know you have your infield. So you have a first base, second base, third base and then home. If you get to your first base, maybe that’s your certifications, you get to second base maybe that’s your Associate’s degree or another degree, and maybe one more certification. You get to third base that’s when you start getting your ASPs, your degrees, and maybe a few other board certifications.
Then, when you’re home, that’s when you either have a CSP, CIH, Master’s degree or other certifications and qualifications including experience. And, you have to actually be out in the field too, not just sitting in an office to see what’s going on.
No matter where you are in the ‘field,’ you can always learn something new to help better perfect your craft. I learn something new on the job every single day. You’ll always learn something new on the job.
[During that apprentice,] although [Samuel T Naylor] kicked my butt every day, I was very lucky to have somebody that pushed me, for a year straight.
I ended up getting promoted and right after that I was about to go down to Kandahar, Afghanistan. My manager said something that sticks with me today – “Steve, you can run any safety department in the world. I know you can now.” But it wasn’t all praise. His final thought for me was one I took to heart – “You’re missing one thing, you need to get some education behind you, you don’t have it.” At the time I didn’t have that education. So… for the last nine years I’ve been on a crusade to accumulate educational learnings; matter of fact, I should be taking CSP. I’ve come a long way!
When I was a month into my stay in Kandahar, I had an epiphany. We had to stay in these circus tents – 120 to 200 man tents. I woke up one night and I had to throw up—I didn’t feel so good. I went out to one of the porta potties because that’s what you did when you’re up there.
As I was struggling to find the potty in the freezing cold, pitch dark, middle of nowhere in Afghanistan, I had an epiphany: “I’ve got to get some of the education behind me or I’ll never get anything job wise in safety back in the states.”
…Today, I have my ASP. Sam didn’t sugar coat anything [when giving me that advice]. I’ve come a long way; I wasn’t even at first base, and now I’ve made it past third now and heading towards home. My final words of advice for any Safety Professional would be, “learn something new on the job every day”. I do, and the day I stop learning something new is the day I need to step away and find a new profession.
Have you ever had an incident that changed you, and how did you approach it with your role?
I’ve worked all over the world – Mosul, Iraq, Kuwait, Bagram Afghanistan. Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. Working in these harsh environments made me who I am. It was during those times that I was reminded, almost daily, how precious life really is.
On numerous occasions, I would transport an ill or injured worker to the Kandahar Military Hospital, and it was there peering through the glass in the operating rooms I learned why safety and the safety of those around us matter.
What do you want everyone to know about safety?
As safety professional the first thing I do when I meet a group of people—professionals or regular workers assigned to a task—I let everyone know that as a safety professional I work for them. Everybody that I come in contact with on a particular project, I want them to know that I work for them. It’s not about a title or anything like that. If they need something I want to make sure that they have the necessary support to do their work.
What is your superpower?
Anyone who is in this profession must remember that we are not safety cops; safety is about building relationships. And I for one have incorporated that into my philosophy and my superpower is my work ethic.
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