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Q&A with an NSC Rising Star of Safety, Class of 2015

The NSC Rising Stars of Safety program recognizes leaders of tomorrow for their commitment to safety, influence on safety culture, promotion of continuous workplace safety improvement and creation of safety initiatives producing measureable outcomes. Below, meet a Rising Star from the Class of 2015

Michael Hawkins
Non-Commission Officer in Charge, Headquarters Safety Program
U.S. Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, CO

What are you looking forward to at Congress?

I am looking forward to networking with so many safety professionals from all over the world, and discussing their best practices so we can all learn from one another and improve our individual safety programs.

Why did you choose a career in safety?

I wanted to do a job that helped protect the most valuable asset in any business: their people. Additionally, the job appealed to my desire to learn investigative skills and engage with people on a regular basis. Lastly, safety appeared to have great job opportunities after I was done with my career in the United States Air Force.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced in ensuring workplace safety, and how have you overcome it?

Selling the message of safety and getting buy-in by supervisors and workers. I overcame this by embedding myself with the operations and learning their processes coupled with not always talking about safety. Once I was able to gain the trust of both supervisors and workers, they began to open up about issues that are typically very difficult to detect, such as culture.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned so far in your career as a safety professional?

That safety is best incorporated into all processes started during the planning stage. When safety is an afterthought, then not only is the opportunity to make meaningful impact on the mission hampered, but now I’m forced into recommending that the answer should be “no.” I personally see my purpose to help navigate to a “yes” answer by identifying hazards and recommend commonsense measures to mitigate those hazards.

What safety success are you most proud of achieving at your current employer?

Upon arriving at the Air Force Academy, one of the areas that leadership asked me to tackle was to strengthen and improve the traffic safety program. The trend data clearly indicated traffic-related risks as the greatest threat to Academy personnel and the most at-risk population was the cadets, mostly comprised of 18-22 year olds with limited driving experience. Therefore, I developed a phased initiative to provide multi-venue professional presentations on winter driving, defensive driving and behavioral safety targeting the five most common causes of motor vehicle crashes: fatigue, speed too fast for conditions, impaired driving, distracted driving, and failure to use seat belts or helmets. Additionally, I also spearheaded a regional effort to provide advanced motorcycle safety training to the area’s three installations, creating a sixfold increase in training opportunities. Finally, as a capstone event on my traffic safety initiative, I reviewed, consolidated and addressed five separate traffic safety studies comprised of over 150 findings.

What piece of advice do you have for other up-and-coming safety professionals?

Be a professional, learn and understand the mission of your employer, know the regulations inside and out (or know where to find the answer), gain the trust of both the supervisors and employees, and most of all never stop learning.