In Service to Safety at FPL

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Safety is no accident.

At the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), Tom Jacobson is a big part of the “safety” culture. One of the biggest positive changes Jacobson has seen in his 25 years on the job as Occupational Safety & Health manager at FPL is a shift in the mindset of safety itself.

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Tom Jacobson, Occupational Safety & Health manager at FPL

“Safety is no longer seen as something in addition to a job at FPL,” Jacobson says, “it’s become part of the job.”

Whether driving a forklift, testing a new composite product, or taking a huge glulam wood beam to failure, the shift to a preventative safety mindset is a welcome one. Facilitating a stronger safety culture across all tiers and tasks has been a strategic goal in recent years for the Forest Service and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When Jacobson started at FPL, in 1987, a “culture of safety” did not exist then as it does now, he says. The onus for maintaining FPL’s strong safety record, Jacobson points out, has come to rest mostly on the shoulders of individual unit supervisors. Though Jacobson has the flexibility to address safety issues across the board at FPL, the project leaders, he says, assume most of the direct responsibility of training new hires and making sure veteran employees remain safety-conscious rather than becoming complacent.

Employees in the seven research stations of Forest Service Research & Development face many distinctly different safety concerns compared to most Forest Service units who serve on the forest. In R&D – where we trade in chemicals, flasks, and lab-wear rather than wildfires, pulaskis, and chainsaw chaps – safety consciousness can take on a different orientation. The essential elements of safety remain the same, however, says Jacobson: “If someone is doing their job well, they are doing it safely.”