Oregon OSHA Health and Safety


February 2016

Going the Distance

Company: SAIF Corporation

Loss Control Manager: Chuck Easterly

Workforce: 949 people

What are your responsibilities and what’s a typical day like for you?

I'm responsible for providing the overall strategic direction and technical support for SAIF's occupational safety and health services to our 50,000 policyholders. But more often, I see myself as an ambassador and representative for an amazing group of safety and health professionals here at SAIF. My biggest role is to remove obstacles and continue to equip our team to do what they do best. We have a fabulous group of safety consultants and industrial hygienists who don’t need a lot of direction. They need leadership that inspires them and enables them to come join our policyholders as valued business partners to create safer and healthier work environments.

Like most people, I don’t have a typical day, but some of the typical issues I deal with include working on cooperative partnerships with other organizations, exploring business systems to help our team be more effective and efficient, developing strategies for how we can expand or enhance our services, working with my team on advancing specific goals and objectives, and being an effective conduit of information between our field staff and our senior leadership team.

What sparked your interest in working in the worlds of safety and workers' compensation insurance, and what do you enjoy most about working for SAIF?

I got into the field of safety through my role as the emergency preparedness coordinator for the Disneyland Resort in 1989. That was a very interesting job, and it enabled me to work alongside the Disneyland Safety Department staff. In those days, that was a very small staff, so I got to quickly expand my knowledge and skills as I worked with safety professionals and was mentored by a great boss. I eventually moved from emergency preparedness to full-time safety work at Disneyland. I was later given the opportunity to manage the workers' compensation department for Disney operations in California while continuing to lead the safety department. When I moved to Oregon, I was able to experience safety from the vantage point of a national workers' comp insurer before arriving at SAIF in April 2002. So, like most people in workers' comp insurance, I didn't set out on a path to get here, but I sure love what I do.

When I left Disneyland, I wondered if I would ever again work for an organization where I would be surrounded by exceptional people who were so mission-driven. My arrival at SAIF answered that question. I love working with like-minded people who genuinely care about each other, and about fulfilling our vision and mission. Because we insure more than 50 percent of Oregon businesses, we're in a great position to influence the health and safety of the people of this state. And because we're a not-for-profit, state-chartered public corporation, we see it as our responsibility to help make Oregon the safest and healthiest place to work and live.

… the Safety Culture Spectrum, examines six key areas that are esential to the development of a strong safety culture: safety leadership, accountability, employee involvement, risk and systems assessment, programs/procedures/training, and equipment/budget/environment.

Chuck Easterly
  Chuck Easterly at SAIF Corporation

SAIF's vision is to make Oregon the safest state in the nation. What successes would you point to that show we're on the right path to achieving that vision?

We won't make Oregon the safest state unless we expand our efforts to make it the safest and healthiest state. Fulfilling that vision is a long-term process that requires a lot of help. We're not going to do that completely on our own, and we're actively partnering with other organizations that share our vision. So, one of the successes I would point to is our collaborative relationships with groups like Oregon OSHA, the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at OHSU, the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, the Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition, industry associations, and many others.

Another success is our selection as a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Health Affiliate. We're the only insurance company in the U.S. to have earned this designation. This designation recognizes the commitment we have made to expand our efforts beyond workplace safety and health to focus on protecting the worker, regardless of where the hazards originate. Our Total Worker Health efforts put us on the leading edge of where the safety and health profession is headed. In the future, when we look back on those efforts, they will be seen as being among the most important elements of our vision.

I'm also very proud that our industrial hygiene team is working to better protect worker health by using safer exposure limits when describing chemical exposures instead of relying on outdated and inadequate permissible exposure limits. Oregon OSHA is working to change some of these standards. In the meantime, every time we discuss workplace health exposures with an employer, we're making sure they are protecting their workers using newer and safer exposure limits from NIOSH or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) whenever the OSHA limits are not as effective.

In some ways, the work to achieve such an ambitious vision is never done. What are some major hurdles that remain, and what key initiatives are under way to overcome them?

Oregon is largely comprised of small businesses, and, in many cases, those business owners have limited resources. That often means businesses can't or don't purchase safer tools and equipment. For safety consultants, it's frustrating when we make recommendations for how to perform tasks in a safer or healthier way, but we know the business is in no financial position to act on those recommendations. That's a major hurdle, and we're in the early stages of exploring how to effectively assist these small businesses in overcoming that obstacle. At the same time, we're also expanding some of the resources and services we provide to these small businesses.

Attitudes about safety and risk-taking are another hurdle. Although the safety climate of organizations throughout Oregon and the U.S. is definitely improving, there are still many people who see injuries as a cost of doing business and being OSHA-compliant as the equivalent of a good safety program. Our safety consultants are now using a model developed by Trevor Ansbro at SAIF to help employers move beyond minimum standards and instead strive for integrated approaches to safety and health that are self-sustaining. This model, called the Safety Culture Spectrum, examines six key areas that are essential to the development of a strong safety culture: safety leadership, accountability, employee involvement, risk and systems assessment, programs/procedures/training, and equipment/budget/environment. The model enables employers to get an accurate picture of where they stand by reviewing statements about these six elements from four different categories (reactive, compliant, managed, or integrated) and selecting the statements that best describe their own efforts. Once they have a realistic picture of where they are on the spectrum, we help develop a plan to help move them toward the integrated side of the scale. Helping employers build robust safety cultures is no small task.

How do you stay passionate about helping to bring about innovation and change, sometimes in the face of status-quo ideas and practices?

I'm a big Steve Farber fan, and in his book, "The Radical Leap," he advises us to "do what you love in the service of people who love what you do." I absolutely love and deeply believe in what we do, and that love generates an energy that fuels my passion. I also see this same level of passion in the people I work with here at SAIF, so it's very hard not to stay energized and excited about what we're doing and what our future holds. We have a great team.

What advice do you have for other safety and health professionals hoping to make a difference?

I learned a long time ago how important it is that the people I'm consulting with see me as someone who is trying to help them succeed, as opposed to someone who is just telling them what the rules say they can't do. When you become Dr. No, people quit asking for your help. Instead, you need to take the time to understand what they're trying to do and help them find safe ways to accomplish that.

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