#Safetyforlife, Impact

When anyone asks me why I chose a career in safety, I have to laugh because I believe that my safety career chose me.

In my first real job, I worked on environmental education projects at Parque Estadual da Cantareira (Cantareira State Park) in Brazil. At the time, I lived very close to the area and was just finishing high school. In addition to helping me pay for college, the job was also a great opportunity  to work with children and learn the business.

After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, I began working as an intern at an air quality consulting firm. I was responsible for conducting industrial hygiene assessments, which was my first exposure to working on safety projects. I remember my first survey was at a foundry, where the work involved melting metals into liquids that were then poured into a mold. Once you remove the mold material or casting, the metal solidifies as it cools. At the site, employees wore all applicable personal protective equipment (PPE) that included a face cover. Although I couldn’t see any of the employees during the normal shift, I made it a point to reach out to them during lunchtime. This became a routine way for me to connect with the employees and exchange life experiences, as well as discuss any safety problems they encountered during work.

At that point, I realized just how important and exciting it was to be able to take care of people by helping to improve their work conditions, keep them safe, and ensure they return home smiling at the end of the day. This is core to AECOM’s safety culture and overall culture of caring. Beginning in 2005, I rendered services for a legacy AECOM company in Brazil, and as the firm’s strong focus on safety resonated with me, I later joined the firm as an employee in 2012.

In my role as the safety, health and environment area manager for AECOM, I work to manage the company’s safety program across 10 different countries with 10 totally different cultures, laws and requirements. As with any geography, there is also variety from client to client. For example, in Brazil, all PPE must be approved by the Ministry of Labor Department, so we are not allowed to use any PPE without this specific certification. Meanwhile, in other countries, there is no specific requirement about local certification.

However, the most interesting challenge working in Latin America is trying to keep everyone on the same page while respecting each person’s culture. My belief that culture is an educational process has helped me to overcome many of these challenges. I focus on ensuring that there is improvement every single day at every moment. However, it is also a trust-based process because your team must believe in you first. My feeling is that if you really believe in what you’re saying, doing or requesting, then employees will follow your lead, regardless of the issue.

Again, safety is an educational process, which means sometimes you must be more direct — even with your people or with a client. In my opinion, if you see or are made aware of any inadequate behavior, the best way to fix the problem is to have an open and honest conversation with the person. This will help you better understand why this kind of behavior was exhibited as well as properly explain safety issues. However, it’s also important to remember that, in any situation, you must first respect the other person.. You must understand the employee’s side of the story in order to help them fully embrace the safety culture and, then, you must be clear in communicating requirements.

I thoroughly enjoy what I do on a day-to-day basis and, since my career chose me, I’m happy to say it’s one of the best choices I never made.

Sandra_Barana_BW_HS_89x100Sandra Barana works as a chemical and safety engineer in AECOM’s environment group, and is the safety, health and environment (SH&E) area manager for Latin America; the practice leader for the SH&E auditing department in Brazil; as well as the São Paulo office regional manager. Nowadays, her main hobby is taking care of her two-year-old daughter. She is married and also has five dogs and one chinchilla — a big family.
Sandra Barana

Originally published Apr 22, 2015

Author: Sandra Barana