Around the Table with Shelley Scalzo Brown

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to fascinating people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their community. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Shelley Scalzo Brown, Operations and Risk Management Leader,
specializing in Corporate Safety, Environmental Management, Business Analysis, Governance, and Sustainability

Where to find you: LinkedIn

What drew you to working in the safety field? 

I was drawn to the safety field by my parents. My father ran operations for a maritime shipping company, primarily tugs and barges, where safety was a social and business imperative. My parents kept sailing, fishing, and enjoying the natural beauty of the Pacific Ocean. As a child, I observed the maritime industry’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince Williams Sound. I went on to pursue Environmental Studies and Political Science in college, then started my career working for an Oil Spill Response Organization (OSRO). I was exposed to OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard and regulations enforced by the U.S. EPA and the Department of Transportation. Over the years, helping businesses navigate complex regulatory frameworks for worker safety and environmental protection has been central to my work in safety. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge regarding worker safety today?

The biggest challenge today in workplace safety is the rate at which workers die at work. The rate at which workers die at work has remained largely unchanged for at least the past 10 years. The causes of these deaths are known as OSHA’s “Fatal Four” (falls, electrocution, struck by and caught between) have remained largely unchanged in that time period too. There is clearly a disconnect between what we want to achieve in reducing workplace fatalities and what we currently do, which doesn’t take nearly enough advantage of safety gains in the development and design phase. Getting better at connecting upstream planning to in-field execution of work will be essential to our success in making progress on reducing workplace fatalities. 

What were some of the projects you worked on when you were on the board at the National Safety Council?

Working with the National Safety Council has been one of the highlights of my career. When I served as a Board member, the NSC was developing strategic initiatives that would carry them forward into the future. This included discussions about integrating technology into the organization’s work and how technology would affect major societal safety issues such as roadway safety. I was very impressed by NSC’s leadership’s instinct to embrace the challenges of the future, remain data-driven in selecting initiatives, and know where their impact would best deliver value.

You’ve also been heavily involved with the National Safety Council’s Women in Safety Division. What was some of your most important work in that role?

Very early on, probably before 2010, NSC recognized they needed to engage a broader audience, particularly on the workplace safety side. NSC brought together a group of women leaders within their membership to form a Women’s Division. Some of the early activities included forming the Marion Martin Award, which would recognize the career of an accomplished woman in safety. We gave visibility to all our nominees as more role models were needed to inspire other women. Another aspect of the Division’s work I learned a lot from was a deep dive one of NSC’s historians did on the legacy of Women in Safety. In addition to Marian Martin, I learned of the work of Francis Perkins, Elizabeth Dole, and other women leaders in government and private industry that completely shaped the protections many of us have at work today.  The Women’s Division continues to work with NSC to ensure that women and others are included as speakers, moderators, authors, project leaders, and nominees and can participate fully in NSC’s important work. My proudest day was handing the Division Chair role over to an incredibly talented woman I never would have met had it not been for NSC’s Women’s Division. 

National Safety Day, observed annually on March 4, is a significant occasion to promote safety measures and raise awareness about workplace safety. What would you be if you had one tip to share with workplaces? How about with workers directly?

Stay connected to your purpose. When you are connected to your purpose for working, you stay engaged with your personal well-being because you have a sense of the future you want to create through your work. 

Of all the roles you’ve fulfilled, from operations to risk manager, auditing to process improvement, which resonates with you most and why?

They all have some resonance for me. Early in my career, I would check- out our HAZMAT Response Teams to ensure their supplied air equipment, gas detection instruments, and communication systems were in place and working before sending them into what we call a “hot zone.” I still wonder whether we’ve considered all the possible outcomes and are prepared to respond.

How often do you apply lessons learned from past projects to your current work? Can you share an example?

I am frequently applying lessons learned. They are central to making improvements in safety last for the long term. Lessons learned can be challenging to arrive at because we tend to believe the ‘lesson learned’ from an injury or incident isn’t always the case. We tend to insert our own bias and judgement. To ensure that lessons learned are accurate and add value, I lean on some kind of team-led cause mapping or root cause analysis process to evaluate all failure points in a chain of events. It takes an objective team of people, and a tool to evaluate to arrive at a good lesson learned. So, my lessons learned: have a strong process for developing them and never go it alone. 

What’s some of the best advice you’ve received in your career so far? What advice would you give to someone starting out in the safety field?

I have had the privilege of working alongside some immensely talented safety leaders in my career. With that in mind, my advice to someone starting out is to stay curious, work on developing a growth mindset, and learn how to motivate others. There is a lot of technical safety information that you will learn with time if you take on new challenges. The human side of safety management is a separate and equally important endeavor that needs development. The changemakers are great at both. 

You’ve been guiding some of Avid Core’s work with OSHA as a subject matter expert. Is there anything that’s come out of the project that’s surprised you? If not, tell us about something that didn’t surprise you at all.

I don’t think this is a surprise to me, but what is exceptional about the work with Avid Core is the ability of the team to bring together and coordinate a large group of people with varied perspectives, talents, and motivations and shape all those messy things into something meaningful and informative for the future. 

When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

I’d be on a boat somewhere. 

If we were literally “around the table” right now, what food would you have brought with you to share? 

I love a good charcuterie board.