Distinguished Service to Safety Award recipients agree: ‘There’s not a much bigger honor when it comes down to it’

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San Diego — Growing up in the 1950s, Jim Sievert often accompanied his late father, Myron, on weekend trips to inspect Philadelphia street excavations. The experiences resonated immediately.

Sievert knew in second grade that he wanted to be a second-generation safety professional. When a teacher asked him to name his ideal adult occupation, Sievert responded with “safety engineer.”

“The teacher said to me, ‘Will you work on a train?’ Because nobody really knew what it was in those days,” said Sievert, now the lead instructor at the National Safety Council of Northern New England in Concord, NH.

Awareness of the occupational safety and health landscape has advanced markedly since Sievert’s youth, a point on which he reflected Monday before accepting a Distinguished Service to Safety Award during the Opening Session of the NSC 2019 Congress & Expo.

NSC awarded its highest honor to six safety professionals, highlighting each recipient’s exemplary lifetime efforts in improving safety and health. Sievert wasn’t the only winner who channeled his father.

“My dad put it best when I told him about the award,” said Travis Parsons, associate director of OSH at the Washington, D.C.-based Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America. “To receive an award where you’re nominated and praised by your peers, both the people you work beside every day and your leadership that you work for, which is what this encompasses, there’s not a much bigger honor when it comes down to it.”

NSC Divisions committees reviewed numerous nominations from the public and NSC members to determine the winners.

“I am very grateful for the person who nominated me, and I am grateful for the recognition that comes with the hard work, with being surrounded by other people who take great pride in their work,” said Michael Ballard, deputy chief of Air Force occupational safety at the U.S. Air Force Safety Center on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM.

“Together you’re able to get things done for the benefits of the workers and workforce and workplace,” Ballard said. “While I get to collect the award as an individual, it’s really about the collective career successes of myself and many others.”

Darryl Hill, senior vice president of safety at FirstGroup America in Cincinnati, considered being nominated for the award “an honor in itself.” Hill recalled “a very uplifting call” from NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin, who informed the recipients of the honor several weeks before Congress & Expo.

“To be recognized by NSC, I think, means a lot,” Hill said. “It’s certainly an honor for the recognition. Plus, I really believe in the focus and the aim of NSC.”

Don Taylor, global health and safety and medical manager at Nexteer Automotive in Saginaw, MI, shared that sentiment.

“When you look at your peers around the country, and you know a lot of different people and have worked with a lot of people and have trained a lot of people around the world, to be mentioned in that limelight and be part of that, it’s a selective group that I’m very proud to be part of,” Taylor said.

Doug Ponstler, chair and managing director of the Center of Visual Expertise in Toledo, OH, said he was especially humbled to earn the same award that two close colleagues have received in recent years.

“It’s such an honor,” Ponstler said. “I don’t think there’s anything else that I could possibly say.”

The council first presented the Distinguished Service to Safety Award in 1942 to recognize companies and individuals who worked to reduce occupational injuries.