By Michelle Gatchell, External Communications
Meet Ohio BWC Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist, Colleen Bolha from our Youngstown Service Office. She assists employers in Southern Mahoning County and Columbiana County with all their safety needs. Ohio employers receive safety consultation services from BWC free of charge as a benefit of their workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Last year Colleen consulted with 189 employers on a variety of safety issues. I had an opportunity to talk to Colleen, and find out a little about what she does and why.
What type of training or education do you have for this job?
I have my Associate Safety Professional (ASP) certification from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, Bachelor of Science degree from Youngstown State University and I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Occupational Safety & Health from Columbia Southern University.
Why did you want to be an Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist?
Through prior experience working as a claims specialist here at the bureau, I saw the devastating impact workplace injuries can have on injured workers as well as employers. I thought it was a great opportunity to work at the other end of the spectrum with employers to help provide a safe workplace, hopefully avoiding having to work with a claims specialist by preventing injuries.
Also, my father, a retired Youngstown firefighter, was seriously injured years ago when he fell through a staircase while fighting a fire and I had an uncle who lost an arm in an industrial accident.
Seeing them go through healing and just wanting to be back at work added into my motivation for this position to do it to the best of my ability.
Working as a claims specialist, we came across people whom because of their injury could never go back to work, and hearing what it was doing to them and their families, I know how important my job is to families and employees.
Do you remember doing your first consult with a company? What advice did you end up giving them?
I do remember when I first began as a safety consultant. It was in the midst of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) update to the Hazard Communication Standard and many employers requested assistance with training in this area. Whether they just needed training material or requested on-site training with their employees, I ensured they were ready to meet the changes to the standards by the OSHA deadlines.
What do you find most companies need consulting on?
I don’t think there is any one thing as this varies so much depending on the current needs of the employer. Consulting with the employers opens up opportunities to see what’s happening at their facility and assisting in areas that might be in need they didn’t even consider. It’s always a good thing to have another set of eyes conducting safety assessments of the workplace or to review written programs. It’s also great to have the opportunity to consult with employers and make them aware, if they weren’t already, of all the services that are available to them. Maybe they were aware of the industrial hygiene services but unaware of the safety grant money or the Safety and Hygiene Library resources. Just being in contact with our customers is important.
Are there certain things all companies could improve that are simple to fix?
The most important thing I think is to include everyone. To develop a true safety culture, it’s very important for everyone from top to bottom to be involved in the safety process, not just a few people. Simply having everyone take responsibility for safety encourages participation and buy-in to the safety program. Doing this creates a great foundation for any safety program.
What do you find rewarding about your job?
Honestly, there are many rewarding things about this job. It’s most rewarding to me, when after working with an employer, to perhaps assist in identifying and correcting an issue or to do some type of training, that I’m asked to return. We work closely with employers and are treated like a welcomed part of that company.
It’s also rewarding to be a part of BWC, where we have a spectacular group of professionals that not only support our customer’s needs, but each other’s needs as well. I’m really proud to be a part of the Youngstown team.
Do you find that you take the things you know as a safety consultant to your friends and family, and what advice do you usually share with them?
This is hard not to do, as it’s natural for everyone to want to protect the people you care about and to keep them safe. I think the most I do is with my young nieces, and that’s probably in fire prevention.
We review our fire emergency plan and meeting place often. I do stress to them why it’s so important to account for their safety in the case of an emergency. They are interested in what I’m doing and ask questions about what I’ve done each day. There probably aren’t many girls their ages (11 & 12) that are as familiar with OSHA standards as they are!
Is there a consult job that sticks with you because you really made a difference? What was it? And how did you improve safety in their world?
There is not one consult job that sticks with me; however, there is a group of them. This group would be the group of employers that I have been fortunate enough to have worked with helping them to prepare to apply for safety intervention grants. Working toward this goal with the employer involves some time and effort from both sides so it’s a good feeling of accomplishment when this comes to fruition. Being involved in the entire process from start to finish of obtaining safety grant money for an employer is a memorable one because everybody benefits. The employer gets money to help pay for the safety intervention, and the employees get a safer work process when it is put into place.
I hope you enjoyed meeting one of our safety specialists here at BWC. Colleen is just one of more than 100 consultants around Ohio ready to help employers make their workplaces safer. You can request a consultant in your area by calling 1-866-569-7805 or visiting bwc.ohio.gov.