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For the last 20 years Mealii Seanoa-Sanchez has worked her way up from safety specialist to Southern California regional safety manager for AECOM Hunt Construction Services. A graduate of Cal State Long Beach, Mealii has established herself in the safety world by working with commercial construction general contractors in the greater Los Angeles area.
What has changed during your time in the industry, as it applies to safety?
When I first began in safety 20 years ago, safety was solely the responsibility of the safety professionals on site. Now I feel owners understand the benefits of having educated safety professionals on site to manage safety as well as a support staff that actively participates in the site safety program. More owners are mandating that project teams track safety observations, investigate incidents or conduct audits. It’s not put on the safety professionals’ shoulders as the catch-all. It’s great to see a team environment working to get workers home safely.
What did you have to learn on the job that you didn’t learn in college?
When I first started in this field, I wish I understood that a degree doesn’t mean you will be successful. I worked hard to get my bachelor of science. But I found once I started working in the field, that my lack of experience outshone my education. If I had known the importance of an internship when I was in college I would have enrolled in more! Interning is a perfect avenue to pick the brains of those that have years of experience in the field.
I had to learn how to build on the job; I never learned how to build anything in college. YouTube gave me a visual of how a structure was pieced together; structural steel, concrete pours, shear walls and pulling wire to name a few. I would Google everything, watch YouTube to educate myself. Once I understood how to build, I better understood what the hazards were and was able to plan for preventative measures. College doesn’t teach you this, you must walk the job and work backwards.
What hasn’t changed during your time in safety that you would like to see changed?
There will always be someone that will challenge your knowledge. I am constantly challenged by others to learn how to communicate more clearly. I commend those safety professionals that have found their style of teaching others. As a safety professional you may need to find a creative way to address others in a different manner to be sure you get the result you desire while being consistent and fair with your approach.
What are your top three take-aways for those who are new to safety?
1) Don’t take pictures of safety observations and walk away without coaching, mentoring or discussing how to resolve the issue. Be the solution and offer your recommendations. Find ways to have safety conversations that lead to further education or building relationships. There’s so much to be said for a safety professional that will give you a solution to a non-compliant observation.
2) Get to know your craft. Who are the key players? Who are your advocates of safety? Find time to have the craft teach you and build relationships in the field. Humble yourself. This will not only teach you something more about building your structure, but it will grow the trust between you and the tradesman. Safety is a resource, not an enemy.
3) A safety professional that says one thing and does another will lose trust amongst his peers. Be a person whose word is golden. In order to build trust you must be a person of integrity. I’ve conditioned myself to write everything down so that I can review my list daily. If I tell someone I’m going to do something, I write it down, and get the job done in a timely fashion and volley it back to the other person, like a volleyball game. Strive for quick responses that educate and assist those that are relying on you.
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