My Story: David H. Burpeau
I discovered the world of occupational health and safety after a stint as a Navy corpsman during the Vietnam era. After the Navy, I worked in surgical research as a federal employee and had to leave the best job ever because of exposure to gases and chemicals in the operating room. It was determined that I could no longer do this job, and so I was offered a couple of horrible job choices, which resulted in me going to school. At that time, I had an in-law who was the safety manager for a large school district. I quickly realized the direct link between my medical background and occupational safety.
I started taking community college classes in occupational safety and industrial hygiene, as well as the National Safety Council “Key Man” program offered in the 1970s – very similar to today’s Certified Occupational Safety Specialist Program.
I was hired as a safety assistant by a company known as Kelco, which harvested kelp off the coast of California. Shortly thereafter I was offered a safety position at a large water agency, where I stayed in this industry for some 30-plus years until my retirement. This position evolved over time to include safety, training, risk management, claims management, hazardous materials management, homeland security and more.
After my retirement, the agency went through about seven people before getting someone to stay on. I have often been asked how I handled so much and accomplished what I did. I simply said – if you remember the “Ed Sullivan Show” – that I was like the juggler who spun plates on stage, keeping them all from falling.
By the way, in addition to all this, I had a relationship with Don Brown Productions (Digital-2000) in which I developed about 600 safety videos. Why? Because in the early days of safety, a single safety video cost $750,000 or more. No one could afford to train employees this way. We said, “We can do better,” and developed training at a fraction of the cost, with a final number of more than 2,500 titles.
Today, I provide consulting and training to many agencies, and have taught trenching and shoring since 1980. I have tried to lead my life in a manner to help people. I hope I have been successful and made a difference.
David H. Burpeau