By Abbi Ferri

Women make up nearly 50 percent of the global workforce and often experience occupational risks differently than men. However, safety interventions frequently take a one-size-fits-all approach. Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) believes we must advocate for gender-specific solutions. With approximately 2,000 members, WISE is the leading member community within ASSP’s global membership of 38,000 safety and health professionals. The group is committed to influencing industry and identifying solutions to safety and health challenges that impact women worldwide. Safety is a team effort. It takes all of us.

How does WISE tie into Damage Prevention? In more ways than one might think! Ketha Molina, Damage Prevention Manager – West Texas for Texas 811, is a member of WISE. Safety is protecting someone from harm. For Ketha, protecting underground utilities means you are saving lives by protecting the company and employee from seriously devastating consequences. She effortlessly weaves the Damage Prevention message and WISE message together, realizing her role is to protect the public from serious injuries and possible death, which includes educating family, friends, neighbors, and the general public on digging safely.

Safety doesn’t see one stakeholder as more important than another. Some view fiber and electric lines as “less of a risk,” however, when fiber lines are hit, 911 access can be impacted, which can be devastating to someone in need of the service. When electrical lines are damaged, it can mean loss of heat or air conditioning, no lights, no power. Not only can this put lives in danger in a medical setting, but it also means loss of productivity and revenue for area businesses. Putting a value on any stakeholder and saying one is “worth more” than another goes against her values, and the values of Texas 811. A stakeholder, whether it is a line locator, an operator, a landowner, or anyone else, is an essential part of damage prevention and value is held at every level. Being a member of WISE has proven helpful to Ketha as another audience for her to share her message, but it is clear more education is needed. Perhaps it is a language barrier, cultural differences, socio-economic obstacles or any number of things. In many communities that would benefit from further knowledge of damage prevention, the message is often lost.

Women are rare in the damage prevention industry. As a Latina, one of the issues Ketha faces is succeeding without buying into society’s preconceived notions of who she is. She also can’t buy into the notion that she needs to work twice as hard for half of the reward and realizes, culturally, that she cannot diminish her own worth by silencing the voice that keeps her strong. She is a Latina – strong, intelligent, graceful, motivated, nurturing, giving, and a leader. As a Latina, she stands proud, not hindered by her heritage, but fueled by it.

Recently, the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) hosted a summit on the safety of women in the workplace that focused on solutions to prevent violence against women at work, and encouraged employers to acquire personal protective equipment designed specifically for women. More than 50 safety experts gathered at the Women’s Workplace Safety Summit, analyzing obstacles that keep women from advancing into leadership positions in the occupational safety and health profession. The diverse group of thought leaders represented businesses, nonprofits, labor, academia, government and professional associations. The summit included a keynote address by Dr. Cori Wong from Colorado State University who discussed gender equity and inclusion, and how those factors intersect workplace safety.

Plans are already in place for ASSP webinars that focus on the issues addressed at the summit and a key issue collaboration session at ASSP’s Safety 2019 Professional Development Conference and Exposition in New Orleans in June.

Abby Ferri is Vice President – National Construction Practice for Hays Companies. Abby also serves as Administrator of WISE and President – Elect for the ASSP Northwest Chapter. She can be reached at abbyferri@gmail.com. The article was reprinted with permission from DP-PRO magazine.