My Story: Dave Wells
My career started while working in the chemical industry in Pennsylvania, as an Environmental Protection Agency level III hazardous materials technician. During those 23 years, I was never full-time safety, but taught first aid, CPR, fork truck training, and confined space entry and rescue, and led the emergency/fire response team. The company told me I couldn’t advance any further unless I completed college. I had no desire to finish college, and my kids were now in college.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but had an itch to travel. A friend asked me to help run a construction crew in Colorado, where I spent the next eight years learning about construction and took on training new workers.
As is usual in construction, during slow times, there is no work. One of those slow times came just as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. A friend, knowing my experience in hazmat, begged me to come down. I did, but when I arrived, one of the team leaders said they were shorthanded and really needed me to take over as a safety manager. I fell in love with the job and, for the first time in my life, felt like I was doing something that really made a difference and could be a positive influence in saving someone’s life.
I spent almost a year after the hurricane training, coaching and mentoring workers to work safely. I knew I could never go back to “just construction.” We put our home up for sale while still in New Orleans, and I applied for a job with ECC, a company that does environmental and construction projects all over the world for the U.S. military. The company’s vice president, Rich Gioscia, offered me a job as a safety professional if I would commit to finishing my degree in the next year. I completed my degree in occupational safety and health and started a journey that took me all over the United States and around the world constructing U.S. embassies, hospitals, etc.
Along the way, I had the honor of being involved in one of the first OSHA Voluntary Protection Programs mobile workforce programs in Texas, and have been an OSHA outreach instructor and National Safety Council instructor. The knowledge that was shared was instrumental in saving many lives over the years.
During the past 11 years, I had the privilege of training, coaching and mentoring workers. I spent a lot of time away from home while traveling to places such as Africa and Kyrgyzstan (located between China’s western border and Kazakhstan), and all over the United States. I decided to retire this past March and feel great about having had the opportunity to be a coach as part of teams in all types of environments with thousands of workers. Yes, we had some accidents along the way, but I am proud that no one ever lost a life on any of the many projects I had the privilege of working on. My advice to those out there wanting a career: If you learn how to be a caring “safety coach,” I know you will enjoy your career in this field.
Ormond Beach, FL