November 14, 2017 / Thomas Smith

Safety Matters in Utah: Who Knew Making a Difference Could Be So Easy?

I’m not a dynamic leader, and I’mnot out to change the world. I’m not in the “inner circle” of anything, really. I’m just someone who decided I was going to try to make a difference, and Safety Matters gave me that opportunity.

By now, you’re likely familiar with Safety Matters, the joint AIHA-NIOSH program to raise young people’s awareness about workplace health and safety. Safety Matters is a streamlined version of the NIOSH Talking Safety curriculum, designed for delivery by occupational health and safety professionals.

At AIHce in Seattle last June, I met with AIHA Past President Steven Lacey to get some information on his efforts to introduce the Safety Matters program to schools. He gave me some great insights and directed me to NIOSH and AIHA resources that could help get the program implemented into the schools in Utah, where I live and work. Those resources include the curriculums for Safety Matters (PDF) and Talking Safety, sample letters to a Senator, and sample legislation (PDF) that was passed in the States of Oklahoma and Texas, along with some videos.

While excited by the prospect of incorporating Safety Matters into Utah’s schools, I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to accomplish this. I didn’t have any contacts in the State Legislature or the State Board of Education, but I knew of people who did, including Danielle Denne, the president of the local ASSE chapter. I called Danielle and asked if she would like to collaborate on this initiative with me. She said that she would love to help.

Utah State Senator Karen Mayne had helped Danielle with some other safety initiatives in the past, and Danielle set up a meeting for the three of us. The Senator was very excited about the prospects of getting this information to the high school students in her district in particular, but also to the rest of the State. She put us in contact with Sydney Dickson, the State Superintendent with the State Board of Education. When I met with Sydney, she said, “I’m sold! Let’s do it.”

Sydney helped me understand that the school curriculum in Utah is not legislated, so we wouldn’t need to pass anything. The same might be true in your state: it’s possible that, as in Utah, you won’t even need to introduce a resolution to implement Safety Matters.

The State Superintendent asked if some of my colleagues and I would introduce Safety Matters to the teachers who will be using it. I said emphatically that AIHA and ASSE would be willing and able to do that. We’re planning to deliver the information to teachers during their continuing education seminars at the end of the school year. Our intention is for Safety Matters to be part of the 2018–2019 curriculum for high school students.

From my experience with Safety Matters, it’s clear that anyone can do this. For some it may be just as simple as it was for me; for others, it may require more of an investment of time. But for me, the hardest part was just deciding to get started.

I encourage AIHA’s local sections to look for ways to reach out to local communities. Many of you are probably already doing amazing things in your communities. Getting Safety Matters into your state’s schools is a way to potentially impact the working life of countless young men and young women entering the work force for the first time.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is senior manager of Safety, Health, and Environment at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, and president of the AIHA Utah Local Section. He can be reached at (801) 240-8209 or via email.​


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