Creating a safe work environment is vital to worker's health and welfare, and West Virginia University safety management graduate Alexis Claassen thinks it all starts with why we work.
Claassen is an environmental health and safety specialist at PPG Industries' industrial coatings plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. When the company initiated Safety 365, a company campaign to end workplace injuries, Claassen was tasked with making the program fit the plant's team and culture.
"I wanted our team to remember the reasons they should work safe and why they want to go home at the end of the day," said Claassen, a native of New Kensington, Pennsylvania.
To do so, Claassen asked each employee to write a sentence or phrase about the reasons for wanting to work safe on a dry erase board and take a picture with it. The pictures were then placed around the facility, and each employee was given a copy to attach to their name badge.
"There were pictures of everyone hanging around the office, from the chief executive officer to the janitors; everyone's safety matters and we wanted to showcase that," said Claassen, who also compiled the photos into a slide show that played throughout the plant. "People were excited and smiling when they saw themselves and their colleagues in the video, and it really helped raise comradery around the facility knowing that many of us wanted to get home safe for the same reasons."
Claassen's idea was a huge hit, and PPG's corporate office took notice. Today, PPG facilities around the world use the idea to promote safety.
"I think what made the idea such a success was the personal engagement," said Claassen. "No matter what job we work, or where we work in the world, most of us really care about similar things."
Claassen takes great pride in making sure employees under her watch make it home to their families after their shift, noting it's a calling she found while pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology at WVU.
"At first I wanted to be a medical doctor, but after taking a safety course at WVU, I knew I had found my passion. The knowledge I gained in class has been the foundation for my future," said Claassen, who graduated in 2014. While pursuing her master's degree, Claassen was a NIOSH Fellow Scholar and served as president of the student chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
"Alexis was extremely insightful in class and quickly grasped what few young professionals do until they have been in the field for years: that safety management is not only about regulations," said Gary Winn, professor of industrial and management systems engineering. "It's also about weaving into the company culture a fabric of caring for each other in the context of risk management."
"I knew from the time I got accepted at WVU that it would forever change me," said Claassen. "Being a Mountaineer means being kind to those around you and putting the needs of others before your own. I get to showcase that Mountaineer spirit in my work every day."
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