006 - How Next Level Companies Approach Safety


Bill (00:00):
I don't really look at heat, um, as being different from other occupational hazards. I think it's just one that we take for granted because it's an environmental hazard. Um, and we just assume that everyone knows how to handle it because we all live it every day.

Al (00:24):
Welcome everybody to Radio Free Tenacity, the voice of worker safety. I'm your co-host Al Buczkowski and we'll be joined in a bit by our work site safety specialist, Allie Thunstrom and EHS dynamo Bill Geddings. Bill has worked for and with a veritable who's who of bleeding edge innovators, including his current gig as senior safety engineer at Zoox that's z-o-o-x. So what is Zoox? Zoox is an exciting kind of upstart autonomous ride service founded to make personal transportation safer, cleaner, more enjoyable, um, and really to achieve this goal they've created this whole new form of transportation. Bill will dive into that for sure. Uh, you can also learn a bit more about that project at zoox.com. Again, that's z-o-o-x as in xylophone dot com. Uh, also a reminder to rate, review, subscribe, share, uh, you know, anything you can do if you're digging what you're, you're hearing on Radio Free Tenacity, uh, that not only helps us feel good about ourselves, of course, but helps other people find us and all the great insight we're working hard to bring to folks like you. Um, and speaking of insight, that does lead us right to Bill Geddings. Again, when you're talking about the true progressive thinkers in workplace safety, Bill is 100% absolutely that dude and Allie got a chance to speak with him a bit on a, on a variety of topics, really, uh, including his goal to be an agent of change and safety cooling, PPEs place, and heat stress mitigation programs, and much more. So without further ado, let's get right into that convo with Allie and senior safety engineer at Zoox, Bill Geddings.

Allie (02:23):
All right. So Bill, welcome to the podcast. We're super excited to have you and you know, doing my typical homework ahead of time, AKA Google searching you and going through all the social media to kind of get to know you a little bit better um your bio on LinkedIn really got my attention. So, you know, instead of asking you to tell the listeners a bit about yourself, I'm going to read what your LinkedIn bio says and then you can expound. Does that sound good?

Bill (02:49):
Sounds like a plan.

Allie (02:50):
All right. So your bio reads, EHS leader, agent of change and speaker of truths, signature strengths: communication, activator, maximizer, includer, and adaptability. Can you speak to those a little bit?

Bill (03:05):
Sure. So, um, when I was with Lockheed Martin, I had a manager who introduced me to the strength finders book, um, as part of, um, his management style. And, um, it was from a bigger project that he had been involved with, uh, within the organization that we worked with him. And it was, um, when I first got it, he gave me a copy of the book. I kind of thought it was that, you know, that next management thing, the majig, you know, the, the, the, the, whatever was hot on the topic of the month kind of thing. And I had been through several of those over the years with different leaders in different organizations. And honestly it took me probably five or six months to even crack the book open because I just wasn't even excited about it. Um, but then I took a flight to the east coast and of course, you've got that five, five and a half hour flight time. And I said, okay, I'll take the book with me and read it on the plane. And I read it and then I read it again, and then I read it again and then I'd read it again. And each time, you know, the amount of time it took me to read it got shorter and shorter, but the concept of the books spoke so much to me personally, of, um, the concept of focusing on our strengths and not on our weaknesses as we work towards continuous improvement of ourselves. Um, and I've been trained as, um, in lean six Sigma through Lockheed. Um, so I was a certified black belt, and then I was trained as a black belt as well. Um, and that whole continuous improvement is just kind of part of who I am now. Um, it's, it's how I kind of look at everything. And so, you know, when I talk about being an agent of change, that's part of continuous improvement. When I talk about being a speaker of truth, that's part about, you know, that's part of continuous improvement. And so the, the, the whole thing about the strengths, I kind of play into that in that th the amount of time, energy, and effort, it would take you to put into, um, improving your weaknesses, even a slight amount. If you take that same time, energy, and effort, and you put it into your existing strengths, it's going to be exorbitant, um, is the increased of, of how you as a person grow. And so that's just the philosophy that I've adopted. And the funny thing is I always felt that way. I just didn't know that there was a process for, until I went through this book, and I've probably given away 20 copies of this book over the years. Um, you know, I'll mention it to somebody, uh, you know, I bought a copy from my partner and we compared strengths. You're like some people do the love, language comparisons and things like that. We did a strings comparison to figure out how do we work well together as a couple. Um, and, uh, so yeah, it's great. Have you done Strength Finders yet?

Allie (05:59):
I haven't, but I mean, that sounds super intriguing. And I think in general life, you know, coming from my athletic background, that is always, what's been so ingrained is focused on your weaknesses and how you can improve there, but instead, you know, focusing on your strengths and making those better, I mean, that's, that's a golden ticket also. So I think that's super unique and really awesome that that's how you have kind of developed your leadership strategy. And it sounds like it's working very swimmingly right now. So that's really awesome.

Bill (06:29):
I hope so. Um, and I tell you what, if you either send me an email or a text afterwards with your address, you will have a copy of Strength Finders next week.

Allie (06:38):
Awesome. I would love to read that I'm very excited about it. Um, so I mean, I think all of those titles and descriptors, you know, make perfect sense, especially when looking at the companies that you yourself have been involved with a lot of really big names, um, including your most present position at Zoox. So for those not familiar, uh, can you tell us a little bit about who Zoox is and, and what you do there?

Bill (06:59):
Sure. So, um, I'm a senior safety engineer at Zoox, uh, part of the environment, health and safety team. Zoox was founded in 2014 and, um, they were founded to make personal transportation safer, cleaner, more enjoyable for everyone. To achieve that goal, the idea was, is that the team created a totally new form of transportation. Um, Zoox was going to operate as a mobility as service, um, in dense urban environments. Um, the, um, company or the vehicle will handle driving, charging, maintenance, upgrades for the entire fleet of vehicle. And the rider will simply just pay for the service. In 2020, Zoox we joined forces with Amazon, um, and we're kind of in the process of, um, solidifying our future within the autonomous vehicle industry based off of, um, you know, that relationship that we now have with Amazon. Um, right now we're focused on casting on private and public roads, um, as we move towards launching the first, uh, Zoox ride hailing service, uh, we're currently operating vehicles in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and, uh, we're headquartered in Foster City, California with our main manufacturing facility being in Fremont, California.

Allie (08:17):
Wow. That's incredibly interesting. So can you tell me a little bit about like, what the experience would be as a Zoox rider?

Bill (08:23):
Um, so you would use an app, um, to hail a ride. Um, the vehicle would show up, you would climb on board and then the vehicle would take you from point A to point B. Um, again, primarily in the dense urban environments. Um, and, um, it's a, it's a driverless vehicle. So, um, the, the vehicle is, um, electric, autonomous, and, um, just totally different than anything that, you know, we we've experienced so today.

Allie (08:51):
Wow. That's super cool. So like similar to an Uber or Lyft, but on the flip side, we're not getting docked points depending on how good our conversational ability is with the driver because there isn't one, right?

Bill (09:02):
Yeah. I mean, that's when we look at, I've never thought about the, uh, the rider/driver, um, you know, kind of, uh, evaluation experience, but yeah, you do definitely, um, take that out of the equation, um, you know, in as well as, you know, when you talk about safety, um, you've, you've got, um, you know, commitments there as well as just part of the company and, and, you know, kind of our culture.

Allie (09:27):
Absolutely. I mean, I think that sounds phenomenal. I know from my friends and coworkers and stuff, we mainly use the ratings as kind of a joking metric between groups of friends, but it is definitely something unique to look at. And you mentioned the safety side of it, and, you know, that's always definitely a concern which brings it into very nicely, your role within that. So can you expand a little bit on how you fit into that and the safety side?

Bill (09:52):
You know, one of the things, um, that I was really looking at in the next company that I was going to work for is, um, kind of the totality of how the company approached things from a safety perspective. And one of the goals, um, you know, I said earlier Zoox founded to make personal transportation safer. Um, you know, that's one of the first primary core point points, um, of the company. And to me, that kind of lays the foundation to make everything that I do from an occupational safety and health standpoint, that much easier. You're not having to sell the idea of safety and our leadership. It's part of our, you know, it's part of who we are as a company. And so that makes things much easier. Um, you know, the interesting thing about environment health and safety is that we are a cross-functional organization that touches literally every employee in every organization. Um, it doesn't matter if, you know, if you're a finance person that sits at the computer for eight, nine hours a day, um, or if you were the person who's out there turning wrenches and building things, um, there's always an aspect of occupational environment, health and safety, um, that we cross over with between other organizations. So, um, you know, that's the exciting thing is that we get to work with all the different teams, all the different groups, um, and help them solve, you know, ridiculous problems.

Allie (11:12):
Yeah that's super, super unique. And I think, you know, one thing you mentioned is how it does touch all the different parts of the organization, even the ones that you don't quite think of, but they are all incredibly important. And being able to interface with different groups is, you know, rewarding and also really helps bring everything together at the end of the day. So overall, I mean, you've had a ton of EHS roles in your career. What would you say really is the defining attractive point for you to these roles?

Bill (11:42):
It simply comes down to wanting to help people. Um, you know, if you break it down to its lowest common denominator, that's where it all starts. Um, you know, I was as a very small child, the kid that played with first aid kits, um, because if somebody got a booboo, I want it to be able to help make them better. Um, that led me to going to paramedic school after high school. Um, I was, uh, I went through, um, firefighter training when I was in high school because at the time South Carolina, South Carolina allowed you to start to train it at age 16. So I volunteered and went through fire training. Um, so by the time I was legally old enough to actually perform the duties, I was already fully trained as a firefighter. Um, and, um, and then after that, I, uh, went into, um, public safety for a bit and worked as a firefighter paramedic and a police officer, um, at the beginning of my career. And, um, then transitioned over into, um, construction, health and safety, and then from that into, um, safety equipment sales, um, and that's where my first real relationship with Ergodyne started when I was working as a distributor. And then, um, after that, I went into, uh, more of the general industry manufacturing, um, with Lockheed Martin, so very interesting career, but it all comes back to helping people.

Allie (13:05):
Yeah, that's super interesting. You know, I think on one of our previous podcast episodes, I mentioned that that's kind of how I got into this industry, as well as at the end of the day, my big thing was I wanted to save lives, quote unquote, you know, and so I was on the path to go to med school and wanted to do that. But then as it turns out blood and I don't necessarily mix and had a couple of fainting episodes, so that wasn't going to be my thing, but that desire to continue to, you know, make people's lives better and, and hopefully, you know, ensure that workers and everybody is making it home safe at the end of the night is something that I can have a part in. Exactly like you said, you know, so I think kind of shifting a little bit at the time that we're talking today, spring's here, you know, except it's questionable in Minnesota, we never quite know it could snow tomorrow. That that's just how it goes. But in theory, summer is on its way, which brings up the topic of heat stress, which is kind of the main thing that we wanted to chat about today. And, you know, from a common sense view, heat stress seems like an easy thing to mitigate. You know, hydrate, take breaks in the shade, you know, get into air conditioning or shaded areas to take, you know, to rest. But you know, I'm gonna throw some stats out here in the last two years, they've been over 8,000 heat stress injuries in occupational safety. So what do you think is kind of contributing to that? Do you think it's that because it's so common sense we're not as vigilant or, you know, what other large-scale factors, trends or institutional thinking do you think are contributing to that high of an injury account?

Bill (14:44):
A lot of it is, is, um, territorial. So I grew up in the Southeast and, uh, we have four seasons. Um, now granted it's spring and fall are generally pretty short. Um, our winters and summers seem to be a little bit longer and more brutal. Now I'm not comparing South Carolina winters to Minnesota winters. Um, but you know, I definitely understand that there's a difference there. Um, but we, uh, generally do get snow and ice. Um, just it's usually measured in inches instead of feet. Um, but it's, um, you know, so I think a lot of it is that, um, is that if you take someone, um, from the Central Plains and you put them in the Southeast in August, um, you're going to blow their mind if they've never experienced humidity, right? Um, and at the same time, if you take somebody from, you know, the coastal areas of South Carolina or Florida, and you put them in Las Vegas in July, um, you're going to blow their mind. There's 120 degrees, but there's no humidity, right? Um, and we don't necessarily understand how to react when we go into those different environments because we're not exposed to it. And so it all comes back to everything else is that it's, um, training, um, you know, having good policies and procedures and having proper oversight, um, to be able to provide those resources to the people that are exposed to the hazards. Um, so I don't really look at heat, um, as being different from other occupational hazards. I think it's just one that we take for granted because it's an environmental hazard. Um, and we just assume that everyone knows how to handle it because we all live it every day. Um, but the thing is, is that when you're talking about people performing work under these conditions, we do have additional requirements that we have to be cognizant of.

Allie (16:44):
We are all subjected to environmental heat in our daily lives, whether it's us up in the summer, some people are constantly in that environment, but I think it is something that you don't necessarily think of. And even though, even sometimes you will think of it and say, you know what, it's going to be really hot today. I need to drink extra water. But the piece of the puzzle that I think is often forgotten about is that time leading up to that. If you're not hydrated ahead of time, you can drink as much water as you want on that hot day, but it's not necessarily going to make a difference. And like you mentioned, bringing in to the equation, strenuous work. There's some other things that need to be considered. And at the end of the day, we all, we all think we have it covered until it hits us. And then at that point, it's kind of too late to take those small steps like hydration. And that's where heat stress issues really start to come into play. I know at one of the job sites I did a toolbox talk at last year, it was right before the 4th of July. And he said every year, right after the 4th of July, we end up with a handful of heat stress issues. And it's exactly that, you know, they're out celebrating the 4th of July with friends. You're not really thinking about what you need to do at work two days later, but all of that, you know, liquid that you're consuming, that's probably not water, is going to have an effect when you have to get back into that strenuous 90 degree heat two days from then. So I think that's, that's a huge piece of it. Um, so what do smart companies like yours and the ones you've worked for previously, like Lockheed Martin, Whisk, Google X, what are they doing to address a hazard like heat stress?

Bill (18:15):
I would say that the, the majority of my experience of working with teams to manage heat stress came from when I was working with Lockheed Martin and I worked in the aeronautics line of business. Um, so, um, I started off in Greenville, South Carolina, and then went to Marietta, Georgia. So both were in the Southeast. Um, and anytime you're dealing with airplanes, there's obviously a lot of the time that is spent outside because the airplanes are on the flight line. They're being tested, they're being flown and that sort of thing. And so, um, that's where the majority of my experience came from. Um, I'll be honest with you is that before I was with Lockheed, when I was doing construction safety, um, heat stress wasn't really talked about, um, it was kind of before the heat stress standards came out. Um, yeah. You know, there were always water coolers on job sites. Um, but you know, you wouldn't see, um, you know, shade tents up or, or you wouldn't see cool-down areas and you wouldn't see designated, you know, places for that on a construction project. Um, and so, um, my experience really started with the work on the flight line. Um, and you know, the thing about the flight line is, um, your best place for shade is probably going to be underneath the footprint of the aircraft because, um, you can't really have those kinds of encumbrances out there on the flight line, um, due to them, um, you know, creating a hazard for that environment. Um, but I think some important things to think about. Um, the first thing is you'd mentioned that the preparation and, um, I think that to me is really kind of the very first thing that you have to think about. And if you're talking about, um, you know, let's say construction, for example, I'm not talking about, you know, even pre-planning or preparation for, Hey, it's going to be extra hot next week. You know, let's think about that. I'm talking about when you're bidding the job, are you including in the downtime that you're going to have for rest breaks, right? Are you including the PPE that you need to provide to folks? Are you including the cost of, you know, setting up these rest work areas? Um, and so when we talk about preparation and pre-planning, we need to go back to the very beginning, um, you know, whether it's planning for the job, planning for the project, um, you know, doing estimates or take off or whatnot, uh, you know, that's an example of that preparation pre planning. Um, and again, when we talk about training, not necessarily, you know, just talking about training the people who are performing the work and the people that are supervising them, but again, going back to the estimator, going back to, um, you know, the, the in-office project staff that are doing all the pre-work for the work to be performed later, are they including in, you know, those things when they're doing their calculations and their estimates and a lot of companies don't, um, right? And then all of a sudden you're holding a supervisor or worker accountable to an unrealistic expectation because it wasn't planned ahead of time. And so those are the kinds of things that I think next level companies look at, um, is, is starting those things as early as possible. Um, another thing that you don't see in a lot of programs that I think works really well, and one of the things that we talked about a lot on the flight line, um, was a buddy system. Um, so when you're working in these conditions, um, that you have each person responsible to another person, um, to just kind of look out after them, right? Are they drinking enough water? Do they look okay? Are they sound okay? Are they sweating still? You know, are, are they stopping to take their breaks like they're supposed to um, to where you have that, um, you know, co-responsibility to each other. Um, and, and also, you know, let's be honest, a little bit of peer pressure. Um, you know, that goes a long way in the workforce to make sure that you're holding each other accountable. So, you know, I think those are some things that, that list, this look like. And then of course everything comes back to the hierarchy of controls. Um, and we're all pretty much familiar with that, but I think this is one of the hazards that the hierarchy of controls works really, really well for. Um, because you pretty much can touch every aspect of the hierarchy of controls for this particular hazard. Some hazards, you can't, you kind of, you know, there's, there's one or two that apply, or maybe three that apply, but for me, um, that's really important to consider the hierarchy of controls in your programs.

Allie (22:41):
Yeah. That's super important information for sure. And one thing that you did bring up is the PPE aspect of it. So I just want to touch real quickly on that and talk kind of, what is your experience with cooling PPE, like cooling vests and cooling towels? And how do you feel that they're best incorporated into a prevention strategy?

Bill (23:00):
Right. So we all know that PPE is the last line of defense. Um, and, and, you know, as important as PPE is, uh, one of the things that we also have to remember about personal protective equipment is it's not necessarily designed to, um, prevent, um, exposure to the hazard or protect the worker totally from the hazard. Um, a lot of times PPE is just to reduce the effects of the hazard in the event that the employee has a problem. And I think with heat related illnesses, um, that that's an example of that, um, is that as well as fall protection is a good example of that. Is we're not saying that you're not going to get an, a heat related illness if you're using the PPE. What we're saying is we're going to reduce the severity of it and that we know, right? Because again, every person is different. Every environment is different every day that you get to work with different when you talk about heat related illnesses. Um, so the thing to think about with PPE is that, um, it's a tool in your toolbox. It's not the tool in your toolbox. If you're trying to manage your entire, um, heat illness program with PPE, then you probably are gonna have some problems, but, um, it's a great way to add to your program of elimination, substitution, engineering, controls, administrative controls. Um, and again, depending on the work that's being performed, um, you know, you've got, um, absorptive, evaporative, uh, phase change, um, and then even hydration systems, depending on, you know, the work going on, um, you know, with COVID gosh, give me a wearable hydration system instead of a, um, you know, a jug on a, on a project any day right now because you just don't want to necessarily share some of those things with each other. Um, but you know, I I'll tell you my first experience in using, um, that kind of PPE goes back to when I was active in the fire service, um, working with hazardous materials, um, and using, um, phase change, um, as well as, um, and I'm not sure really where this one would fall in is probably one of the evaporative. Um, but it's, it's kinda maybe about prevent phase change is, um, there was a company years ago, and this was almost 20 years ago that Lily had a water cooler that connected to a pump that connected to a vest, and you would pump the cold water into the vest, and then you would soak the vest in cold water. So it was kind of a combination, I think, of phase change and evaporative. Um, but we would, we lived inside of our level A suits. Um, because again, in the Southeast, in the summertime, you know, basically imagine putting yourself into a giant Ziploc bag and then going to work when it's a hundred degrees outside with 90% humidity, um, you had to have that kind of equipment. Um, if not, you know, you're talking about a 20 minute breathing air supply, um, and you know, the idea of going and doing 20 minutes worth of work, if you don't have that cooling, you probably cut that in half. Um, just because of just because of your exposure. Um, so yeah, I, um, you know, I've used the materials, um, I've sold the materials, I've specced the materials, you know, I've kind of done it all. And, um, you know, the thing to remember is, is that, you know, just like other hazards, there's not one piece of PPE that's going to be right for every situation. You have to spec it out based on the hazard, based on the workplace conditions, based on the person that using it. Um, and you know, my thing is is that if you don't know your PPE well enough to understand how to do that, reach out to the manufacturing rep and say, this is my hazard. What do you recommend? And guess what, that's what they love to do. They're going to tell you exactly what you need. They'll send you samples of it and they'll follow up with you to, you know, to make sure that the samples work. Um, and so it's a partnership of, of working with your manufacturer's rep to make sure that you get the right equipment.

Allie (26:57):
Absolutely. Is it, I think you hit the nail on the head with that is there is not one piece of cooling PPE or any PPE that's going to fit for every single situation. So it's best to, you know, sample things out. Talk to us, this is what we do. This is what we eat, sleep and breathe. You know, we, we live for these moments, so you know reach out to us, let us know and let us help. And we can try to find something that works. And, you know, if we can't, then we can go back to the drawing board and see if we can't make something. Um, but I think all of this has been really awesome information and a really great conversation, Bill. If I can ask you to just do one thing to kind of close out our podcast today, can you just give one piece of advice to your peers who might be looking to formalize or get buy-in on a heat stress prevention plan?

Bill (27:42):
Gosh, to formalize or, or get buy-in? Um, you know, probably the biggest thing that I would, um, that I would suggest is to just go into it, um, kind of with a open mind, um, and understand that a large part of, um, this type of a program is education. Um, and that's not just the education of the workers who are performing the work, but education of your leadership team, your support team, your, your, your cross-functional teams that you work with. Again, whether that be your finance team, you know, why is this stuff cost so much money? You know, all we're trying to do is cool people down. Well, the reason is because of this, you know, this is the technology, this is why this piece of equipment is more cutting edge than, than this other piece of equipment. Um, and, you know, just making sure that you take the time to educate people. Um, the other big thing that I would say, you know, we've talked about, um, you know, testing a PPE and sampling PPE into, um, your, your workplace. Um, the other big part of that is not just that you do it, but then you follow up with the people afterwards with a good survey or an assessment, um, to get the feedback from the people who actually use it to make sure that, um, what was sampled out there will actually work. And again, a lot of manufacturers, they already have these surveys, or they have these data generating templates that you can use to collect that information, um, and then help you make that determination.

Allie (29:11):
All right. Well, thank you so much Bill for taking the time out with us today to go over everything that you've done in your career, to talk about your leadership style, and all the different heat stress plans and ways to prevent heat stress injuries on the job site. I think this was super informative and we really can't thank you enough for your time today. So, uh, everybody thank you for listening in to the Ergodyne podcast. Uh, we'll see you later.

Al (29:37):
Alright wow. So you see what I mean? Uh, Bill, Bill is absolutely that dude. Extremely driven yet inclusive and down to earth. He really practices what he preaches and is constantly striving for progress in this sometimes stayed and stodgy world of environmental health and safety. Um, so once again, great convo there with Allie and Bill. Thanks again for joining us Bill. You're a true delight. Again, as a reminder, please do rate review, subscribe, and share if you appreciate what you just heard. As always thanks for listening and stay safe out there people.