My Story

My Story: Susan Tolbert


In 1996, I was asked to attend a “train the trainer” class to learn how to train school bus drivers. Up to that point, I had been the only person in my family to graduate from high school, but had never attended any courses in a higher education institution. While attending that class, I discovered a strong desire to learn and do more. I was encouraged by the instructor to take more classes, which eventually led to my admittance into my hometown college to start down the path to a college degree.

At the time, I was driving a school bus and had four children. I became a bus driver because I was able to take my children with me on the route and had the same days off as they did during the summer. I would get up at 4:30 to drive my morning route, go to the college and take a class or two, and then drive my afternoon route starting at 2:30. Once I had completed my afternoon route around 5:30, I would return to the school and take an evening class. I was determined to get a degree, and that drive is how I found my passion for occupational safety and health.

I took as many classes as I could because I knew I was burdening my family with this grueling schedule and wanted to finish as quickly as I could. During my second year in school, I started inquiring about courses that I could take that were considered “easy.” I was told to take Introduction to Occupational Safety. On the first day of that class, I was amazed that there was a field of study, and even a career, that consisted of “watching other people work,” but more so that people had to be told to work safely – a trait that I had ingrained into my character, especially as a bus driver.

I met with the instructor of the class, and she encouraged me to take more classes in occupational safety. So began what is now a 20-plus-year career. However, what I did not know was that this career choice would lead to my passion, drive and commitment to keep workers safe.

In the fall of 1998, I came home from school one evening and was met at the door by my husband, who told me my father had been killed in a trucking accident. I was in shock, and could not believe it because just a few years earlier my father-in-law was killed in a trucking accident as well. This accident only added fuel to my commitment to create a work environment where employees would be safe.

My drive and passion are still strong today. I have recently started planning for retirement and have completed an EdS in adult education, online learning, with the intention of becoming a teacher and mentor for others who are interested in OSH. I’m hoping I can bring my knowledge and wisdom to others who have the same passion for workplace safety as I do.

Susan Tolbert, EdS, MESH
Safety, Health and Risk Manager
Concord, NC

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