Wanted in multiple states, there is no one in workplace safety leadership like Allen Woffard. Armed with funny memes, management quips, and a foam gun (we’ll talk about that later), he is a well-known safety master trainer. His profile speaks lightly of his voluminous experience, from field safety to director level, and his presence is in demand. He’s been recruited for a spring teaching stint at UC Davis and leads a podcast called “Dragging Up 6.0,” which began this year to help keep safety conversations for workers going during the pandemic. He shares his safety “why” and where he sees the future of safety.
Laughing and Learning
Woffard founded his safety career shortly after his time in the military. Working in dangerous situations, he began researching better ways to conduct his duties. This led to his workplace investing in his future by sending him to safety classes. He then wanted to help other workers who have been through mundane training by grabbing their attention and leading in a new way. He started to learn how to shock them.
“I truly believe safety is a buffer between management and production or management and construction. We should be the eyes in the back of the head,” he said in one of his podcast episodes. “Be your brother’s keeper, don’t be a d***head, because we will call you out, I promise you.”
What makes Woffard popular is his pragmatism and candor. He knows his OSHA standards facts and even old Egyptian antiseptic methods for first-aid emergencies. He also has common sense. Safety to Woffard is not a practice; it’s a way of life. He calls out weakness and peppers his phrases with adult humor and colorful language. While most businesses consider him a hero, he is a pest to the ones who stay complacent when it comes to safety.
“A lot get mad. I don’t care—well, I do, because they are hopefully doing good things,” Woffard said. “There is a need for satire in work safety.” And that’s what attracted UC Davis.
“Last year, they saw a video that I posted with me providing a HazCom class about perceived and actual hazards,” he said. “The academic recruiter submitted it to the dean, who in all of her years of teaching said she thought I had the most unique and engaging teaching method with persons in the trades.” UC Davis then hired Woffard to launch university’s new safety officer training program, without him even applying for the position. “I am hoping that I can show new or developing safety personnel the right way to perform the function from the ground level, and always succeed in meeting their objective. I was told to be me during the teaching because the dean said that is what caught her eye. Not the PC version, but the no bull****, boots on the ground method that I am known for.”
Especially this year. The coronavirus pandemic has had a somber effect on American workers. He’s been traveling throughout the U.S. to help workplaces with their COVID-19 and general safety training. The past year has been a teacher for many and on many levels.
“There are a lot of hardships right now,” he said. “July through December, 32 classes for Red Cross training and OSHA were all canceled due to no group gatherings. Even with modifications, companies need the training and want a professional trainer on their site.” He said this causes demand in the future, as businesses will need to catch up through help and training.
“(COVID) training is poor—no consistency,” Woffard said. “People are more paranoid than informed.” An example he uses is people who are wearing masks continually, which restricts airflow and oxygen. “Every two hours, dry and switch out your mask. Do not wear it more than two days in a row.”
Training to the environment and specific hazards of the jobsite is crucial, Woffard said. It’s that lack of adequate training that fires him up for pushing fall protection and rescue in construction, he said. “Not because of fall protection being the number one cause of fatalities, but because the fatalities occur because of sh**** training,” he said. “The rescue is just as critical because improper rescue or preparation can kill as well.”
For general industry, Woffard says there is a lack of training and worker understanding of chemicals. “A lot of injuries occur because people do not know what a hazard condition looks like. They’ve been in the forest so long that the trees become flowers,” he said.
It’s that complacency that Woffard aims to kill. One tactic he likes to use is through efficient industrial safety signs. Not the average “Danger” or “Caution" signs, but ones that add interactivity through a QR code. Through the code, a safety message will appear in multiple languages necessary for worker comprehension.
His advice to safety managers?
“Lead by example,” Woffard said. “Monkey see, monkey do. It’s blunt, but you have to simplify it.” He also says management on all levels needs to step out and help control workplace situations better. “The emotional stress on workers is so high right now,” he said. Workplaces are quick to install new safety features, such as plexiglass barriers and other items. Yet, they are not paying attention to whether that could cause another hazard, such as trips and falls. “They are not looking for better ways that work for their environment,” he said.
Woffard’s goals are to work more on training safety practitioners to meet their highest levels, provide more contract services in the field, improve current training materials with video demonstrations, finish two books, and improve his podcast. He also would like to see more workplace safety changes in the future.
“All safety personnel (except for a manager/director) should be contractors, that work on a rotational basis so as not to become complacent with a facility or its issues,” he said. “By the safety working with a variety of clients, they are exposed to a variety of issues that develops their knowledge base and experience. When they do return to a facility, they are more inquisitive and attentive. They notice changes (good or bad), they are not affected by internal dramas between management and production, and they add value.”
Oh, and that gun on his desk that shoots foam: “My Christmas gift from work!” Woffard exclaims. “I can let you know from a distance if you’ve forgotten your safety glasses.”