My Story: Victor Lawe
My journey into safety began in 1990 with the U.S. Army, as my unit was ramping up to deploy to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. My unit’s first sergeant asked for volunteers to be trained as combat lifesavers. Before I raised my hand, I asked what that was. Combat lifesavers are first aid responders who are trained beyond basic first aid to start and maintain IVs, perform CPR, and use various field-expedient methods on soldiers under combat conditions. I received the training and maintained that certification throughout the rest of my career in the Army. After I was commissioned as an officer, I inherited the additional duties of battalion range safety officer and unit safety officer.
Since my first civilian job, I have held numerous leadership positions in production management. I naturally gravitated toward safety committees, making safety improvements, safety audits and the like. I was drawn to manufacturing.
At my last manufacturing facility, I was “voluntold” by my plant manager in 2018 that he wanted me to become the new environmental, health and safety manager for the next 90 days. If it worked out, the job was mine. Previously, our human resources manager was wearing two hats: HR and safety. As such, our plant fell behind in getting key safety objectives completed. In 32 days, I melted down her stack of past due objectives to zero.
I then left the private sector to become the safety officer for the City of Rocky Mount, NC. My challenge here is to remember that it’s not a homogenous operation like manufacturing. We have 13 departments, 42 divisions, 1,277 employees and one of me. Some things I handle personally, and others I outsource to consultants and service providers. I had to change my tactics from being the hands-on EHS manager to a safety consultant. I made it my mission to visit each of the different facilities to conduct safety inspections to provide me with a baseline of where our city’s safety programs stood. These inspections provided a two-way training environment. I received informal training on what each division does daily. I observed the indigenous hazards of their jobs and how they deal with them. The divisions received informal training on the hazards or unsafe conditions in their workplace. Being a visible force for good has installed newfound respect from the employees to the directors for the position I now command.
EHS is such a broad field. I have been fortunate to receive mentoring by city employees on the culture, history and politics of municipal work. Attending conferences and safety classes has helped me to actively network with my peer safety officers from other municipalities for guidance on programs, policies, products or services. My job is to help each director, superintendent, supervisor and employee become that much safer through hazard recognition. Implied with that task is the job of changing the safety culture of the city from a reactive one to a culture where safety is integrated into every phase of the operation.
Victor Lawe, PS-MESH
City of Rocky Mount, NC