Oregon OSHA Health and Safety


April 2016

Going the Distance

Company: City of Portland Parks and Recreation

Health and Safety Manager: Barbara Aguon, member of American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) since 1985

Workforce: About 500 employees year-round, with an additional 1,200 to 1,500 workers for summer programs

Success is when the fruits of your labor literally made the difference in someone living or dying.

Barbara Aguon

What sparked your interest in health and safety?

I didn't realize there was a career in occupational safety and health until the advisor of the program at Oregon State University, Dr. Lawson, did a short infomercial about the safety studies program. I was intrigued. This resonated with me because it sounded like it would feed both sides of my brain: creativity plus working with people to feed my right brain, and a technical aspect with rules and regulations to feed my left brain. At one point, my mom told me the story of my Great Auntie Irene, who, in 1939, did her thesis paper for her master's degree on safety. So this calling is in my bone marrow.

What's a typical day like for you in your current position?

Suffice it to say, no two days are ever the same, and I like to say, "Every day is just a walk in the park." Actually, a typical day starts with a good cup of coffee, a very quiet office, and much work to do. I'm an early riser, so I usually get a good head start on the day. A cherished treat is to see the sunrise crest in the east from our 13th floor office in the Portland Building downtown. As the sun comes up, the day unfolds and my plan to pick up where I left off the day before sometimes works out. Other days, my plans are circumvented to deal with an emerging issue at one of our sites, with one of our staff, or in the greater community that affects our services, programs, properties, or staff.

My role encompasses safety evangelism to emotional ministries. By this I mean that I continue to teach the requirements for working safely while also trying to convey the value of working safely. In other words, each individual matters and each person should feel they are worth the time to work safely. Emotional ministries is the softer, more subjective side of my job. It calls upon my capacity to respond to trauma and tragedy that affect our staff, on and off the job. It's about coordinating emotional debriefing and finding resources for staff for particular types of situations that come up in their lives.

I am most proud of our automated external defibrillator (AED) and emergency medical response program. We have a remarkable success rate with the use of AEDs, and we have a fully developed post-incident stress debriefing protocol in place to take care of and support staff members who are involved in critical incidents.

How do you measure success?

Success is when the knowledge and training you share with people reaches their hearts in a way that empowers them to make changes that support a healthy, injury-free lifestyle.

Success is when, at the end of the day, you've left it all on the field and can truly feel like you made a difference that day. Success is when the fruits of your labor literally made the difference in someone living or dying.

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

In short, you can make a difference! Celebrate small, positive changes and take on a marathon mentality that acknowledges you won't get everything done quickly. At the same time, stay focused on moving in the right direction, and it will all come together.

Stay positive. It's contagious. Realize that workers let you into their world, and when you are welcomed into their space, you can learn so much about what they do and how they do it. It is with this understanding that we can work together to make the workplace a safer place each day.

Realize that a team of people can come up with a better solution than any one person. Keep the faith. Follow your passion. Don't let the turkeys get you down. Keep the light at the end of the tunnel lit for all.

Work at keeping a balance in your life between physical health, spiritual growth, mindfulness, and serving others.

Be the leading edge. Don't settle for industry standards. Aim for best practices. Sometimes you have to ruffle some feathers to make the difference that needs to be made. And work with people in a way that shows them that safety can be fun.

Partnerships and collaboration are important, too, as they are means to leverage resources. Step up and into leadership roles in ASSE and other professional opportunities.

People don't remember what you say. They do remember how you made them feel. At the end of the day, lifelong vitality is the possibility we must continue to pursue for all.

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