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Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software, tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.

Safety Management System Improvements

Safety Management. Has it helped workplace safety improve? Safety management systems expert Maureen Johnson, of IBM, rates 30 years of safety.

Maureen Johnson, IBM

As the Integrated Health Services Program Manager for IBM, Maureen describes strides made in safety management systems since she entered the industry in 1985.

Dan Clark interviews Ms. Johnson about the different types of safety management systems (SMS), including OSHA’s Sharp, OSHA’s VPP, I2P2, OHSAS 18001, or ANSI Z10.

Industry groups ASSE, NETS, NFPA and others are also discussed.


Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at

Introduction music

Maureen Johnson: You know, I think there’s been a lot of change. Mostly for the better.

Dan Clark: How has safety management changed in the past 30 years or so? Is it better now than it was in, say, 1985? And do professional associations like ASSE help the safety manager?

Hello, I’m Dan Clark, and today were talking with Maureen Johnson, Integrated Health Services Program Manager for IBM. And we’re talking to her today from her office in Essex Junction, Vermont. Hi, Maureen.

Maureen: Hi, Dan.

Dan: How are you today?

Maureen: I’m fine, thank you.

Dan: So you began as a career safety team member way back when, is that right?

Maureen: (laughs) Yes, it was, ah, quite a few years ago. Over 29.

Dan: Right. You know, this podcast is aimed at the safety manager, maybe a first-time safety manager. Can you tell us what it’s like now, versus what was like then in safety, in the world of safety, and regulations, and what you see on the job sites?

Maureen: Sure, um, you know, I think that, in general, there’s been a lot of improvements in safety. There’s many more OSHA standards. The statistics don’t tell the whole story, but certainly cross-industry work related injuries, illnesses and deaths have decreased over the years.

I’m thinking back to 1985, the ink wasn’t even dry on the, ah, OSHA Hazard Communication regulation. And now, here we are with a, ah, revised regulation, including the Globally Harmonized System and that’s already a couple of years old. So, you know, I think there’s been a lot of change, mostly for the better.

Dan: Did you have, maybe, an easier time implementing the program than you would today, or is it easier now?

Maureen: I think in some ways it’s easier now. There’s certainly a lot more resources out there. In other ways, I think it’s harder, though, because I think safety is viewed, ah, much more comprehensively than it was in the past. Not only those additional regulations that I mentioned, but, many companies, including mine, now have the view that safety doesn’t just start and end at the doors of your plant, or your job site, or your office. Many of us have multisite responsibilities, even multi-country responsibilities, and we’re more holistic. It’s not just the work related programs but, also, there’s those off-the-job aspects.

And I think that’s right because, aside from the fact that we’re in the business because we care about people, there is an overall business reason to help people stay safe and healthy. If somebody is out of work or they’re not able to be as productive as usual because they fell off a ladder and got hurt, it really doesn’t make a difference to the bottom line of the business whether that accident happened at work or whether it was at home when somebody was doing household chores at the weekend.

Dan: So, safety is 24 hour job.

Maureen: Well, it’s a 24-hour topic, for sure. Whether you’re a professional implementing programs, or whether you’re the average person trying to live a safe and healthy lifestyle.

Dan: Does your program include “Hey, eat an apple for lunch instead of the candy out of the machine.” and “When you mow the lawn at home, wear hearing protection?”

Maureen: Sure. Yeah, that’s all part of wellness or health promotion. A forward-looking company, whether it’s a large multinational firm like IBM, or a small, ah, business, should be thinking about their employees to promote things that keep people safe and healthy. But also for that bottom line. When you’ve hired somebody to do a job you want them there and you want them doing the job. You don’t want them out sick, or out hurt.

Dan: What systems or programs exist now that you wish you would’ve had back when you started in ’85?

Maureen: Well, one that comes to mind is actually VPP, OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Maureen: And although it existed at the federal level back then, it was not available in Vermont, and I’m sure in other states, until some years later. I think that anybody who’s aspiring to a successful career in safety should be looking seriously at some kind of Safety Management System whether it’s VPP, or Sharp, or the I2P2, the injury and illness prevention program, or ANSI Z10, OHSAS 18001, or some kind of internal approach or structure that combines the elements of these management systems.

Dan: My eyes glazing over just a little bit. I, I assume, I know what VPP is. It’s the employee management, where they… they’re the eyeballs that see the safety issues as well as your safety management team right? That’s what these other things are?

Maureen: Well, you know, it’s all about management systems

Dan: I see.

Maureen: So, the elements of a Safety Management System whether it’s VPP, or Sharp, which is an equivalent for small businesses, it covers those aspects of a safety and health program.

Dan: I see.

Maureen: The management commitment that’s essential for making the program work. The employee involvement, the worksite analysis, the hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training. And all of these management systems incorporate these elements in some way shape or manner. So your point about the importance of employee involvement is very well taken.

I think some advice for a budding safety manager or safety professional is advice that I gave myself some years ago. And that is: You’re never going to be smart enough, or efficient enough, or have enough time to do it all yourself. Therefore, you really do need to rely on the eyes and ears of everybody in the workplace and recognize that the people that perform the various jobs know the jobs best and are just waiting for their ideas to be heard.

Dan: If you were to step into a new job as a safety manager—say it’s in a manufacturing plant—what would be the first steps that you take when you walk into a job?

Maureen: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is understand the work environment and the hazards that are in the work environment. OSHA certainly has the regulations that cover most of the types of hazards that one would encounter in a manufacturing facility, as you say, for example. I think the next step is to recognize that OSHA sets the minimums. Then you’d need to decide what do we want to do to meet regulations, and then where do we want to excel.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Maureen: You can learn about best practices, you might get involved in some kind of an industry group.Then understand “Okay, we’ve met requirements, we have best practices, and now how do we sustain it?” Continuing to network with peers, continuing to read professional journals, understand the evidence of the science behind the regulations, and best practices that have come about, that’s really going to help someone sustain their safety program.

That, and then, kind of, reconnect with what we were talking earlier about, making sure that you have a committed workforce at all levels, from senior management, to line workers, from veteran employees, to the newest person on the block, that those people all understand the mission and have bought into it and are engaged with it.

Dan: Mm-hm. Let’s talk about your role with, ah, the American Society of Safety Engineers. You’ve been a member of ASSE for a long time.

Maureen: Yes, I joined in 1992.

Dan: Do you recommend being a member of the ASSE just for the networking capabilities?

Maureen: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think the networking is key. I think there’s other benefits, whether you’re talking about ASSE, perhaps the American Industrial Hygiene Association, NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, and other professional groups. There’s financial benefits, like discounted prices for conferences, or webinars, or publications. There’s also access to member-only information like ASSE’s Body Of Knowledge. IBM is also a member of the Network Of Employers For Traffic Safety, that’s NETS, and they have members-only website access.

I think that one of the benefits, aside from the networking, is that if a safety manager, or any safety professional, is recommending some change at their company, especially if that change is significant, management’s going to want to know things like “Well, what are other companies doing?” or “How will this improve our safety program, and can you quantify that in some way?” So, a professional organization has resources and has a network, as you say, of other professionals gathering information from those entities. Whether it be your personal network, or website information, can really help somebody sell their ideas to management about improving safety in the workplace.

Dan: Good. Does ASSE need volunteers?

Maureen: Oh, well, you know, volunteer opportunities abound, I think, in any of these organizations. And I think that for a new person to get involved in a volunteer effort is great, but even for the veteran person, it’s a chance to give back. And a chance to learn from others in any case.

Dan: Ah, let’s shift gears a little bit, because I know that you have other things that you’re involved with, including traffic safety—not just in the United States, but globally. You’re involved with this group called Network Of Employers For Traffic Safety, NETS. Can you give us a quick vision of that?

Maureen: Sure. The role that I play in road safety is actually part of one of IBM’s wellness programs.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Maureen: We have the safety part of it, which is very important. The fleet driver, the business driver. But then, we’re also trying to promote road safety off the job. NETS, The Network Of Employers For Traffic Safety, has been a great resource to me. They do an annual benchmarking survey and supply that data to their members. So, you know, this is an organization where a safety professional or safety manager who has driver safety or fleet safety under their purview could really help.

And they do include the off-the-job aspects, as well, of road safety. They have materials for an annual driving safety week. A lot of different fact sheets on things like distracted driving, aggressive driving and other information that can be shared with employees to help them be safe, whether they are on the road because of work, or just because of their personal travels.

Dan: We’re getting close to the end here, ah, Maureen. I do want to ask you about OSHA inspections. One, have you ever been inspected by OSHA, and two, what should a first-time safety manager do when they show up the door?

Maureen: Well, my experience with, and in our case, it’s Vermont OSHA, is positive. As I mentioned, IBM, in not only my facility, but others, have the OSHA VPP Star designation.

I think that—and this is my personal advice—you can go and read about how to handle yourself during a regulatory inspection. But my personal opinion is that when somebody comes through the door with credentials from OSHA, or the Environmental Protection Agency, or a health department, they’re job may be different than yours but their mission is the same. And that’s protecting the health and safety of people or the environment. If you recognize that, and you treat that person with the same respect that you would want, then I think that that’s going to go along way to a successful outcome.

Dan: Good. That is so well said. Well, Maureen, we’re down to our last question here, and I’m going to make it a quick one for you. Now I know you work for IBM, but, you’re at your office, you’re at your desk. You must have a computer on your desk. Is it a Mac or PC?

Maureen: (laughs) It’s a PC.

Dan: Okay

Maureen: (laughs)

Dan: I knew the answer to that, but I just had to ask. Well, listen, I really appreciate your time today in talking with us about safety, because this is such a big, big topic. And I know that in the United States we have 4000 worker deaths per year that are on the job. We’ve got to get that slimmed-down. We’ve got to get those people safe.

Maureen: Absolutely.

Dan: And you are on the front lines of that and I salute you for the work that you do.

Maureen: Thank you, Dan.

Dan: Well, that’s it and we thank Maureen Johnson, Integrated Health Services Program Manager for IBM for being on the podcast with us today. Thank you very much Maureen.

Dan: Well, thank you.

Maureen: We’ve been talking with Maureen from her office in Essex Junction, Vermont. I’m Dan Clark.

(Outro Music with Voiceover)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to


Maureen Johnson image © 2011 IBM / Maureen Johnson; grinding © ℗ 2015 RGBstock / © ℗ 2009 sulaco229

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