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#69: Safety from every perspective

January 20, 2021 | 1 hours  13 minutes  36 seconds

In this episode of The Accidental Safety Pro Podcast, Series host Jill James interviews Paul Penn. Paul is a Swiss Army Knife of emergency management, environmental management, and health & safety management. His safety and advocacy work has been making waves in the safety world for decades. Listen to all the great stories, advice, and more!

Transcript

Jill James:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by HSI. This episode was recorded December 28th 2020. My name is Jill James, HSI's Chief Safety Officer. Today, I'm joined by Paul Penn, who I'm going to call the Swiss Army Knife of emergency management, environmental management, and health and safety management. Paul has a storied career, including leading the Emergency Management and Refinery Safety Program in the Office of the Secretary at the California Environmental Protection Agency from which he retired in 2018. Paul is now president of Global Vision Consortium. Saying Paul's an expert in his field isn't quite adequate. It leaves out his advocacy for labor, the environment, environmental justice, environmental health, first responders, regulatory and safety communities, which is why I'm so excited to hear your story, Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul Penn:

Hi there, Jill. How are things?

Jill James:

Hey, good, but probably not as good as I'm guessing where you are. I'm in Minnesota, it's kind of cold. Before we dive headlong into your journey, where are you today? What's it like where you are right now?

Paul Penn:

I'm here in the Sierra foothills in California in the Gold Discovery Country near Sutter's Mill. For those of you that know your California history, where gold was discovered in the 1840s. I live at around 1800 feet and unlike a lot of the rest of the country, our weather is based on not your relationship to the sea and your latitude. Here, it's your relationship to the sea and your altitude. Luckily, I live just below the snow line, and just above the fog line, which comes and hits the Central Valley of California in the winter, this narrow band. I live in rolling oaks. It's quite beautiful. I spent all day yesterday skiing, and I can go play tennis today if I'd like also. It's pretty much a great balance, and I've been in the foothills here for 32 years.

Jill James:

Wow.

Paul Penn:

Guess I’m parkin’ it. My wife and I decided that we're coming out of here feet first.

Jill James:

It sounds fantastic. Much better than I put my cleats on, my hiking boots this morning to go for a walk, so I wouldn't slip in the snow and ice that my state got blanketed with yesterday.

Paul Penn:

You don't want to hear that I actually went out to the garden that I have over at my neighbor's and there are still some tomatoes and some blossoms surprisingly enough.

Jill James:

Wow.

Paul Penn:

I culled those and pick some persimmons off my neighbor's tree, because it is that time of year, and made some persimmon bread.

Jill James:

Oh my gosh, that sounds fantastic. Paul, before I get more jealous about your surroundings, let's back the Paul train way up. I'm wondering, where do you want to start with your story? How far back do we go to find that tipping point where health safety in the environment entered your life? Is it in college? Is it on a ski slope? Is it before that? Is it both those places? Where did it all start?

Paul Penn:

I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island. As they say I'm a New York expat out here in California. I lived that suburban life, grew up primarily in a blue-collar community. I was involved in a lot of things. I've been a do-gooder all my life and did some first aid in Scouts and things like that. Then unfortunately, when I was 15, my mom died of Hodgkin's non-Hodgkin's with whom I was very close. That was 1968. Understandably, I was, let's say, angry at the world. I was also very politically active. Active in the anti-war movement, civil rights movement, and then I went off to college. I was actually on my way to George Washington University and got into a state school, let's see, the State University of New York at New Paltz. Beautiful town around 100 miles north of New York City, where I have some familial relations. My grandparents lived on the other side of the mountain. I was up there and was, again, politically active. In 1973, I ran into a guy named Ira Freitag on the streets, who mentioned that the local town was actually starting a rescue squad.

Jill James:

How do you just run into this guy on the streets? Is it because this town is so small?

Paul Penn:

The town was pretty small.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

Actually, Ira, the last time I saw him, he ended up as the road manager for the Persuasions, the acapella group, and I ran into him outside The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco one night, as I was going in to see Dave Bromberg, he was staying in the hotel next to him. That's another story. But I showed up, I was the only college student.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

I had a Shirley Temple curls to the middle of my back of which I have very little hair left, unfortunately.

Jill James:

It was the late '60s, early '70s, right? This makes sense, okay.

Paul Penn:

I started off washing dishes in a pancake breakfast. By the next year, I'm on the board. I always end up on the board of something or another. Jill, people asked me if I want to do that, so I did that, and got my EMT in 1973. I held that for 26 years. After college, I came out west, and I was staying in San Francisco with a bunch of friends who I knew from back East...

Jill James:

Hold on. What was college about? What did you major in?

Paul Penn:

After four years, I looked at my transcript and I said, "How do I get out of here?" I have a graduate degree in sociology.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

I have around 30 biology and science credits. I took microbiology. I remember, one of my first environmental classes was Environmental Aspects of Microbiology. This is in the 1970s, before it was trendy. That kind of opened my eyes to many of these things. Then, in 1975, I'm in San Francisco, and I decided I want to live out a childhood fantasy.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

That was to become a professional ski patroller.

Jill James:

Oh, wow.

Paul Penn:

I've been skiing my whole life. I did some ski patrolling in college. I got a job and moved up to Donner Summit for a season.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

Ended up staying a decade. I couldn't find any place better, this is in the High Sierra, rather than the foothills. This is the area outside of Lake Tahoe. It's named after the Donner Party, who did not do good health and safety management, as you can well imagine, as we used to say, "Who's for lunch?" By the time I left, I was the Vice President of the Public Utility District, which was sewer and water and fire and ambulance. I was an engineer on the fire department. I ended up as a County Planning Commissioner. My view, I was waiting tables and tending bar, because I was a ski bum and I didn't pound nails. I wasn't a carpenter, which is one of the other aspects, employment that ski bums have during the offseason. The sewer and water actually helped introduce me to a lot of the environmental management issues. Then, I started ...

Jill James:

Yeah. What sort of, Paul, drew you to some of those things, different appointments and different pieces, not the off-time ski bum jobs, but the things that sort of crossed into that environmental and safety piece. Is it because of your background in college? Or what kind of drew you to that?

Paul Penn:

I'd say it had to do with how do you make the world a better place to live?

Jill James:

The do-gooder part that you've talked about before.

Paul Penn:

The do-gooder part.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

Again, I've been politically active and socially active all my life. I was raised in some respects in the civil rights movement.

Jill James:

Of course, you were, yeah, 1968. You're talking about, yeah, that's in the thick of it. OSHA was born a couple years later, it makes sense.

Paul Penn:

Yeah. My parents took me. I was actually at the I Have a Dream in Washington, DC in 1963. I was 11 years old.

Jill James:

Oh, wow.

Paul Penn:

During that period, if you remember, there was that whole transition in the early 1970s, where a lot of people went back to the Earth and were doing a lot of kind of withdrawing. I decided I want to stay active, but do something that was meaningful.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Paul Penn:

My Rescue Squad worked me into this and then the Public Utility District made me more aware of the environmental issues and the health and safety issues. Again, for example, we use chlorine as a disinfectant both in the fresh and wastewater and made me aware of the hazards. Also, because I was on Donner Summit Fire Department, we were in the middle of the most dangerous part of Interstate 80. We were at the top of Donner Summit between Reno and Sacramento. We used to get some hellacious crashes, including some vehicles and trucks. We also had what was then Southern Pacific now Union Pacific Railroad, coming through the area.

Paul Penn:

As a professional ski patroller, we're, to the best of my knowledge, the only civilian occupation that actually holds a live explosive charge in their hand for avalanche control. Anyone in their right mind during a blizzard is snug as a bug in a rug, I'm on the top of the mountain in a blizzard with 40 pounds of high explosives in a pack on my back, and a live explosive charge in my hand. I obviously can't be too bright, because you use explosives to try and either cause an avalanche before people get out there, or also to help settle the snowpack so that it doesn't slide.

Jill James:

Yeah. For the first time, this sounds pretty wild. The first time someone hands you a live explosive, and you're in your 20s or however old you were and said, "Hey, this is what you're going to do." Do you just go, "Okay, cool. I'm going to do this", or were you like, "Hold on a second, what"?

Paul Penn:

More the latter than the former.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

As a guy in his twenties, I love seeing things go boom.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Paul Penn:

Yes, there is a certain amount of trepidation and understanding the hazards. It's interesting that, for example, where you would arm those bombs, it was in an unheated shack. You were not allowed to have any form of ignition with you. You couldn't have matches or lighter or anything, and to avoid static. There are so many things that you learn, because the cost of failure can be dire. Again, that increases your knowledge. As a ski patroller, you are involved in health and safety. That was your job. Then, where did that next step come from?

Jill James:

Yeah.

Paul Penn:

One day, I'm sitting at the local cafe, having breakfast, and I see a small little ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, about a Master's degree in Environmental Management. At this point, that was 1983. They listed some of the things. It had to do with hydrogeology, and fresh and waste water, and environmental conservation, and that was actually at the University of San Francisco. I lived 200 miles away.

Jill James:

That's kind of a commute.

Paul Penn:

It was kind of a commute, and it was Saturday classes for a year and a thesis. I commuted 200 miles each way for a year. As I say, I was so poor, I only had AM radio, we're talking poor. Okay.

Jill James:

Yes. Okay.

Paul Penn:

I crashed on the floor of my friend's house in San Francisco until he got in a motorcycle accident and was in a hospital bed in his living room so I got his bedroom. You know you're a real friend when you'll change your friend's urine bottle while he's in the hospital bed.

Jill James:

Oh gosh, your poor friend. What a way to gain a bed. Okay.

Paul Penn:

Then, afterwards, as I say, my mistake wasn't going to graduate school. My mistake was graduating from graduate school, because then I had to get a job.

Jill James:

Yeah, the ski bum days were gone. Okay.

Paul Penn:

A job.

Jill James:

Okay. Yeah.

Paul Penn:

What happened was, I actually got a job in San Benito County, California. Most people have never heard it. It's a small county, but actually not so small county, but it's southeast of Gilroy, northeast of Salinas, from around 75, 80 miles south of San Francisco, and it happens to be the most seismically active county in the country.

Jill James:

Oh wow.

Paul Penn:

It is where the Calaveras Fault and The San Andreas Fault meet. You have phenomena called creep, which is where instead of having large earthquakes, you actually had a series of small ones, where the ground would move on a regular basis.

Paul Penn:

It is well-known. Geologists and seismologists know this place well. It's kind of Mecca for those folks, where the sidewalks would be offset. I was hired because of some problems and mistakes that the county had made, I was hired to run both Emergency Management and their Hazardous Waste Programs. Within a couple of months, I'm running both emergency medical services because I come from that background.

Jill James:

Yeah.

Paul Penn:

Hazardous materials, hazardous waste and their emergency management program.

Jill James:

Wow.

Paul Penn:

Because it was a small county, I got my ability to put my hands in a lot of things. I did that for several years. It was really wonderful. I still have friends down there. The county seat for San Benito County, so it is known to most people as Hollister of t-shirt fame.

Jill James:

Yes. Okay.

Paul Penn:

Also, for those of you that remember the movie, The Wild Ones, it's Marlon Brando about that motorcycle gang. It was actually based on a real-life incident that happened in the late 1940s in Hollister.

Jill James:

I'm getting the impression, Paul, that your career is paralleling some sort of infamous things. Hollister, the Donner Party, this movie, okay, love the color commentary. All right. What an experience that must have been like for you as a young person just fresh out of graduate school to have that many responsibilities. When you list it off, the main things you're responsible for, that's a lot to put on to someone who's in your first foray, in your first job.

Paul Penn:

Yep. It also was a lack of resources. One of the things I would often say is the jobs I've had, you have to use whatever tools you have, especially if you have a few resources and very little delegated power. As they say, in Emergency Management, you often use a command-and-control mode. I was stuck with a coerce-and-cajole mode. That's one of things that helped me along the way, is because if you want to get something done, and you don't have the economic resources or if you don't have the mandate of authority, you have to show the benefits of the health and safety, the environmental management, the emergency management to the end users. Because otherwise, they're not going to sign on, and if you're not going to get that support, you're not going to be successful.

Jill James:

Right.

Paul Penn:

You have to be able to plan, and create, and to convey the benefits of these efforts, so that there will actually be real and demonstrable benefits to those end users, either individuals or organizations.

Jill James:

This is something that our listeners to the podcast know all too well. So many of us have never even had a budget, right? We're always trying to do that. What did you call it? Cajoling.

Paul Penn:

Coerce-and-cajole.

Jill James:

That's right. I think if there was a degree in that, safety and health professionals probably would at least have a minor in it. In all the ways that we're trying to turn over rocks and create relationships to find funding for the initiatives we need, and backing.

Paul Penn:

This is something that has followed me through my career. How do you effect that meaningful change with the least resources? As every safety professional out there knows, boy, that can be a tough sell sometimes.

Jill James:

Yeah. Yeah. What happened next?

Paul Penn:

What happened next? My thesis and my focus was on hazardous materials emergency response. In fact, when I was living on Donner Summit, I started going back to the National Fire Academy back in Emmitsburg, Maryland to take courses in hazardous materials, emergency response, and management of emergency medical services. I did it because I was interested in it, but I also had another ulterior motive. Remember, I was a poor ski bum and I'm originally from New York.

Jill James:

Okay.

Paul Penn:

The Feds would actually pay for my [crosstalk 00:20:10]. Somehow or another, I would route myself through New York, same amount of money, so I didn't cost the Feds anymore. Then, I would pick up the tab and take the train down to DC to pick up the bus to head over there. I got a really good start in hazardous materialsemergency response, partially because, as I described living on Donner Summit Interstate 80, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific Railroad, and high tourist traffic, it gave me that opportunity to really find out what's happening with the cutting edge. That was 1981, where the cutting edge was a little primitive. Let me just give you an example of primitive. We were taught in the early days, those of your listeners who go back this far, when responding to a potential alcohol fire, or an ether fire. Those flames are not very well visible. Little blue white flame, so you were taught to go into a potential alcohol fire and carry a corn silk broom in front of you.

Jill James:

Oh, wow.

Paul Penn:

That was your monitoring device. If the end of the broom caught on fire, you were supposed to back up. In these days of high tech PIDs and FIDs and GCMSs, you reflect back on those days and you go, "Boy, that was both primitive and scary."

Jill James:

This is emergency manager version of the canary in the coal mine. You carried the broom. Oh, my gosh. Paul, how many years is this before the HAZWOPER standard is adapted?

Paul Penn:

The HAZWOPER standard was addressed first in SARA Title I in 1986 as I remember. I believe, Mike Moore, not the filmmaker Mike Moore but another Mike Moore that worked at fed OSHA, I believe came out with the draft in 1987. I think it was adopted a year or so later. The HAZWOPER standard came out, it really created the framework, which we're still living with today. They have not modified that standard since then. It's a testament to this gentleman, Mike Moore, who put something together. I think he was a volunteer firefighter in suburban Maryland, who put together this program. The HAZWOPER standard was also based partially on the four agency manual on dealing with hazardous waste sites, which created the physical framework. Their direction was to come up with something, as I remember, as protective of workers as the asbestos standards. It is now since the late '80s and now we are crossing to 2021. That standard still exists, it's still relevant, and it's still protecting both people, workers, the environment and the communities all these years later. Let me just say that, I'm just finishing up, it's kind of one of those reflective, what goes around comes around and is I'm actually rewriting a 40 hour general site worker course for the California Conservation Corps. I had to really go back and look at the standard again with fresh eyes, after all these years to make sure I was incorporating everything. It really does hold up over time.

Jill James:

Amazing. You had gotten your start prior to HAZWOPER coming into play and then you got to see its work in real time. I assume, then started working with it and in compliance with it and doing training with it after it was adopted with the work that you were doing. Is that how that went?

Paul Penn:

oh, yes. In fact, one of the big pushes that I was working with OSHA, because at that point, and this kind of segues that after my time in San Benito County, I took a position with the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services in their hazardous materials division. One of the things that we're corresponding just before the adoption of the final rule was attempting to ensure that the Incident Command System was incorporated into the standard. It was actually in the final rule. Interesting nuances of regulations, the original wording says shall use an incident command system without capital letters. As time went on, now it says the Incident Command System, I believe, in capital letters in the standard. Because the use of a common organizational structure and the use of a common nomenclature is so critical to having an effective response. I'm happy to say that not too soon after joining the Governor's Office of Emergency Services which I’ll call OES, I was actually on the FIRESCOPE group that developed the hazardous materials module for the Incident Command System, which is still in use today. I can tell you, that was two years of yelling and screaming, saying bad things about each other to come up with that module working with fire folks down in Southern California. We spent a lot of time up at Camp 4 for LA County Fire, which is right next to the Jet Propulsion Lab. It was two years of work. I'm happy to say that that module is still in use worldwide today.

Jill James:

People are using this Incident Command System in places outside of outside of HAZWOPER, I'm guessing. Is it adopted widely in other areas too?

Paul Penn:

As many of your listeners know that the original Incident Command System was created following a series of disasterous wildland fires in 1970, in Southern California, where in retrospect, they realize that not only did they lose the battle, but they lost the war and the lack of a common organizational structure and a common nomenclature. Understanding the command and control that we talked about earlier, was so critical to having an effective response. Even though it was touted as an all hazards system, in reality, it was for wildland fires, and it really had not developed beyond there. East of the Mississippi, it was really unknown and not really well adopted. In fact, there was a parallel program that came out of Phoenix with Chief Brunacini called Fire Ground Command. That was similar, but it was more for structural fire. In the kind of like command wars, the Incident Command System won out and it became the system. In fact, it was the basis for HSPD-5, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, that led to the adoption of new Incident Management System, that was really the basis of it that it was pushed up to the next level.

Jill James:

Fascinating, fascinating. I know, I've been hearing these last number of months my own governor talking about following the Incident Command System in response to the pandemic. What my state in particular is doing and how they're following it with regard to people and supplies. I hear him reference it often.

Paul Penn:

One of the things I do and as we get further I'll talk about how I evolved into the work I do in healthcare, but I teach the Hospital Incident Command System, both nationally and internationally. One of the points is that the key concepts are applicable in so many different things, even in non-emergency events. There's always the organization chart as some of your listeners may have seen, there is the planning a wedding using the incident command system. There is the mother of the bride unit leader and all sorts of things to do that. In fact, my company, the one that I started is called Enmagine, think John Lennon for emergency and environmental work. We would work all of our projects using the Incident Command System. One of the objectives there is to demystify it. That if you only use your emergency savvy and organizations during an emergency, you're not that well versed in it. We would highly encourage people, if they're doing a safety fair or planning a flu clinic, or whatever it might be, to use the Incident Command System on a day to day basis, so that it's not a foreign concept that you can incorporate it into your daily work. Again, going back to that coerce and cajole, how will you make things better on a day-to-day basis and if you can get people familiar with this. In fact, when I teach my classes, don't tell anyone who's taking my classes, that the first exercise we do, to kind of do it in a non-intimidating way, is we have them plan the company picnic using the Incident Command System. They have little party hats with a different color coding, red for operations, blue for planning and things like that. We plan the company picnic. One of the things I find amusing is, again, I work in healthcare, and so I would go to hospitals around the country. When I'm working with faith-based organizations, I would always ask during the planning period, I say, "Okay, here's a question. Are you going to serve alcohol?" The Baptist hospitals would say, no, the Catholic hospitals would say, yes.

Jill James:

Of course. What a fascinating way to make it applicable and understandable to people. That's great.

Paul Penn:

Let me take you to the next step because why I am devious is because then the company picnic turns into a food poisoning event. Then, we turn it into an intentional food poisoning event. You go from a low intimidation, everyone's enjoying themselves kind of sharing the concepts. Then, it gets a little more serious and then it gets a little bit more serious. We found that was a really effective way to convey the material in a way that would have an impact. It seems to work well with us.

Jill James:

Yeah. Picking something that everybody can relate to, what a smart idea. Back to your career, Paul, let's pick up where were we?

Paul Penn:

I was at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. While I was there, I had just a wonderful opportunity. I was assigned the responsibility of rewriting or really writing the California Hazardous Materials Incident Contingency Plan. It was really the framework for hazardous materials emergency response. I was berated, vilified for a while because I actually wrote the plan using the Incident Command System. I had a basic plan. I had command, operations, logistics, planning and finance. It doesn't take much effort to write a thick plan. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of thought to write a thin plan.

Jill James:

Amen to that. Editing is something.

Paul Penn:

Right. I promised my colleagues that this plan would be no more than half an inch thick. That is very, very difficult. It worked. In fact, that plan, which I think went to press 1990 or '91 is still the official California Hazardous Materials Incident Contingency Plan. Then, I made the mistake of getting promoted. I actually became the SARA Title III Program Manager, which many of you listeners know as the hazardous materials Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know program. I ran the largest program in the country. At that point, we had, I think, 100,000 businesses and that has grown over the years. It was really implementing this. California had unusual circumstances that we had a parallel program. New Jersey and California had their own hazardous materials Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Program, known as EPCRA. Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey put in a standalone section of the Superfund amendments, SARA titles I and II that re-upped the CERCLA, Comprehensive and Environmental Response Liability and Cleanup Act known as Superfund. He threw in this standalone Title III. Unfortunately, it was based on the New Jersey model, because that's where he was from. We had to spend a couple of years trying to integrate it to reduce the burden on business because we want them to be working on substantive issues not doing the administrivia. That took a while, it worked out well and that evolved in California into now as the CUPA program, the Certified Unified Program Agency, which is administered primarily at the local level, which is where things should be done. I did that. After that, I actually moved on, I was requested to move over to the California Conservation Corps, because that was after the Huntington trader oil spill. What happened was there was an oil tanker, the American Trader, sat on its own anchor down in the Huntington Beach area, and spilled a bunch of oil. They had people in sandals and shorts on the beach trying to clean it up. The oil is actually owned by BP. They took it overhead. They took a flight over and they had dirty beach, dirty beach, dirty beach, clean beach, dirty beach, dirty beach, clean beach. We said, why is that beach clean? They said, well, that's because the California Conservation Corps was out doing that. You're hearing a lot about the Civilian Conservation Corps from the New Deal during the Depression and the need to revive it because of the circumstances we're faced with now. The California Conservation Corps has been around for around 40 years. They got a grant from BP to develop, people who are trained to the regular site worker under HAZWOPER to do oil spill cleanup. I took over that program and modified that program for the Conservation Corps. The interesting part or the challenging part is the Conservation Corps, it's a wonderful organization, their official motto is hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more. That's their official motto, right?

Jill James:

Bring it again.

Paul Penn:

Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more. We're talking about a workforce mostly 18 to 23 years old, often who do not learn well in a traditional academic setting. People with varying levels of literacy, young adults who came from low resources to homes and communities. How do you take a hazardous waste course and make it effective for a group of ...

Jill James:

These essential workers. Yeah.

Paul Penn:

I remember in a lively discussion that I had with an industrial hygienist, who had talked about how his responsibility was to convey the information and that was it. I said, you have the absolute wrong approach. My job is to ensure that the people that leave that class are able to demonstrate competency to work safely and effectively.

Jill James:

That's right.

Paul Penn:

That's my only job. I think that's one of the problems that a lot of people have. I think we all fall into it, myself included, is you want to give all the information but it's how you convey the information so it works. Because of the different learning styles and the different approaches of the end user that you have to ensure that you understand your end user. That is one of the key challenges that I've found, which kind of transitioned that when I was ... I also became the safety officer at the Conservation Corps, whose workers comp rates were astronomical. Often, these young adults were not physically fit. They came from sedentary lifestyles. Although their biggest worker's comp claim was generally poison oak. There were a lot of serious injuries and we really worked hard to reduce those injuries because those can be life changing for those corps members. That was quite a challenge.

Jill James:

Paul, you were talking about responding to this oil spill in Huntington Beach area. Was that one of the first disasters that you had a hand in? Because there's been others that you've had a hand in in your career, right. Environmental disasters, workplace fatalities, various accidents, right?

Paul Penn:

Since 1973, I've been dealing with, in some cases, mass casualty incidents. New Paltz sitsThe New York State Thruway. We had hellacious motor vehicle accidents. On Donner Summit, we would have our annual bus crash. We had a number of hazardous material spills and avalanches in Donner Summit and large motor vehicle accidents. Then, I had some earthquakes and spills when I was in San Benito County. Then one day, let me see if I remember, that would be October 17th 1989. I'm with OES. We're going to an offsite over in Monterey. On my way there, I'm with my wife and four-month-old son and going over the Pacheco pass, little did I know that the Loma Prieta earthquake hits. I'm supposed to meet some friends and colleagues down in San Benito county because I'm driving through there. Pulling into the town, the traffic is backed up and the traffic lights are out. I see a tilt up building kind of collapsed. Sometimes in life where it's just not hitting you, like the facts are in front of you but they're kind of bouncing off the top of your head.

Jill James:

Especially when you're with family, you're not always plugged into your profession 100%.

Paul Penn:

Right. I was a little late. I pulled down the side road, I knew the town, and I pull in. I pulled in and I ask my wife and I said, "Change Joe’s diapers, I'm late." Standby. Standby. As I say, I asked my wife to change our four-month-old son's diaper. I ran down to the ... I was supposed to meet these friends at a bar restaurant. I see plywood on top of these downtown and on the windows. It's still not hitting me. It wasn't until someone walking past me on the street, I heard the word earthquake, and all of a sudden my head exploded. I ran down looking for my friends, the bar is completely without power but there were still people drinking. I run back to the car. I go, "Adeline, there's been a big insert adjective here, earthquake." I go to the local emergency operations center. Mind you, this is like 45 minutes an hour after the event. All my friends and colleagues who are the emergency management folks are up at the Emergency Operations Center. The first thing that a guy that I had hired before turns to me and says, "What took you so long?" I've going, "What do you mean, it's less than an hour after the earthquake and you got a representative from the governor's office here?"

Jill James:

By happenstance.

Paul Penn:

By happenstance. I spent time there. I ended up being sent over to Santa Cruz. If you remember, the Santa Cruz mall collapsed, but they actually ... My friend who was the head of emergency management for Santa Cruz, Nancy Carr Gordon had said, "You know, Paul, haven't heard much from Watsonville. Why don't you go over and check that out?" Watsonville was devastated by this earthquake, a lot of unreinforced masonry buildings. This is a community that was mostly immigrant workers working in the fields. It's known for strawberries and other things that you find in the greater Salinas Monterey area. I ended up spending most of a week there, sleeping underneath a desk in the city offices. It was also where the Jolly Green Giant plant had a major ammonia leak and almost all the matters of egress out of town were compromised by the earthquake. Working with my friend who was at that point, the assistant city manager and the fire chief, a wonderful person named Gary Smith. It was from that event that formed the Ammonia Safety and Training Institute, people who I've been connected with and friends with since then. They have the definitive work in terms of emergency planning and response to ammonia but approaches that are applicable in so many ways. The work they do is really phenomenal. They do national and international work. They're still some very close friends. I've had little and bigs. I've had people die in my arms. I've had major things blow up. I've had cities collapse on me. Then, over the course of my career, I had the opportunity to be down in Northridge for the earthquake. I was at Katrina and quite a number of other events.

Jill James:

Yeah. They color you, don't they?

Paul Penn:

They do.

Jill James:

Yeah, I haven't been a part of history making events like you have but I've certainly done my fair share of fatality and catastrophe investigations. They never leave your mind. The stories never leave your mind. I know that as I'm driving the landscape of my geographic area, I'm thinking about them as I pass certain places and think about places I've been and people's stories that I carry. I bet you have that as well as you crisscross across the country.

Paul Penn:

It's the curse of a safety professional.

Jill James:

It is, isn't it? Yeah. It is.

Paul Penn:

You could say, I am a professional paranoid, try this at home. It goes back again to being a New Yorker. They say, a certain amount of paranoia is always justified. My job is to instill into you a certain amount of constructive, appropriate paranoia as part of your life. One of the things that I've always felt, as I evolved is what is emergency management and environmental management. It's really just health and safety management on a grander scale. All the same concepts, they're all applicable. What are you doing? We're trying to protect life, the environment and property in that order. If you can do those effectively, you will have the opportunity to make effective change.

Jill James:

That's right. Paul, you were talking earlier about the ammonia release and how it led to more legislation. There's been other things that you've been part of as well, based on your experience that you've had an opportunity to author some different, well, I don't know if some of it legislative and some of it local plans. How does that work?

Paul Penn:

I've been fortunate to be involved in a number of things that that evolved into becoming essentially the standard of care, in many respects. Some of those through, as you say, through legislation. For example, I had a hand in, I will not take full credit, but I definitely had a hand in the revise. AS you indicated in the beginning, I retired from CalEPA in 2018, where I ran the refinery safety program. The one of the big accomplishments is you have, again, many of your listeners are familiar with the process safety management program, and the risk management prevention program, PSM. It falls under the auspices of OSHA. Then the risk management prevention program falls under EPA. In California, we have our own version called the California Accidental Release Prevention Program called Cal ARP for the RMP. What the Interagency Refinery Task Force did is they took the applicable parts of the PSM and the RMP and married those and expanded those for refineries. Those were adopted and to my understanding, they are the most extensive and detailed prevention, regulations for a high hazard industry, probably in the world. There are different approaches. I had the responsibility of taking the lead on the preparedness and response regulations that apply to the Cal ARP side. Those are still sitting over in two years later, much to my chagrin, over at OES, waiting to go through the formal rulemaking process. I've been involved in standards through different bodies. Some of them, I think, really made a difference some languished and then are forgotten. I think for the most part they've done well. Having moved over to health care, because after I was with the Conservation Corps, I ended up taking over environmental health and safety at a small healthcare system you probably never heard of called Kaiser Permanente.

Jill James:

Oh, no, never heard of it. Yeah.

Paul Penn:

You've never heard of it.

Jill James:

You've never heard of Mayo Clinic in ...

Paul Penn:

Yeah. No. No. Those places. Again, here's what I had to do. I had to transpose similar skill sets that I learned in the Conservation Corps to working in healthcare.

Jill James:

Was it hard?

Paul Penn:

It wasn't necessarily hard. It was challenging. One of the things that came out of that was we were all geared up for Y2K. Remember, the disaster that wasn’t...

Jill James:

Yes. Yes. Yes. The one we actually prepared for unlike this one.

Paul Penn:

Right. It's interesting. The only time that I remember where finance, you look at the Incident Command System, getting people to participate in the finance module and component of the Incident Command System is almost impossible, because they never come to training and don’t really care about it. With Y2K, you had their attention. Right? I believe that in emergency management I have two dicta- one- cheating counts, and two-, opportunism is not necessarily a bad thing. We had the attention of people that would normally not be involved in, we really pushed that to bring the parts of the health care system into being effective in an emergency, the ones who normally would not participate. That was very effective. As a region, we had an emergency preparedness group as a subunit of the local hospital association. After Y2K, they said, "Let's take on a project," and that project was hazardous materials. They asked me to co-lead on that. That's what really became the flagship program that I'm known for which is Hazmat for Healthcare, evolved into a first responder awareness and operations class designed for healthcare workers to deal primarily with contaminated victims and small internal spills.

Paul Penn:

As I said, the Corps, we had people who did not learn well in a traditional academic setting. In the healthcare, you had many extremes and I'll use two of them. One was our housekeepers or environmental service workers. Often, English as a second language. Often, do not come in with an academic background. Mind you, these are the hardest working, lowest paid and worst treated people in the organization.

Jill James:

With high exposures.

Paul Penn:

Right and high exposures, right? They work so hard. I often when people go, "Look at this place, it's a mess," and they blame environmental services. I go, "Wait a second, did they make it a mess? Or did you make it a mess?" Then, you also have the other end of the spectrum. That's physicians, who also do not often learn well in a traditional academic setting.

Jill James:

I've had experience with this, I've worked in healthcare, I understand what you're saying.

Paul Penn:

As we evolved the program, we took a lot of the same concepts. We believe in edutainment, right, that adults often learn well when they're enjoying themselves. It's important to ensure that we do not take the material flippantly. As we say, we take the material very seriously. We just don't take ourselves very seriously. That was one of the challenges, but it's really served us well. That is in many respects, that healthcare program has evolved into a very ... in some respects a de facto standard throughout the country.

Jill James:

Yeah. Paul, do you think that pieces and parts of it are being used and applied in healthcare for the pandemic response?

Paul Penn:

Absolutely. Let's just go back to the definition of a hazardous substance in the HAZWOPER standard. Now, it talks about DoT and other things like that. There's a section in the definition which talks about biological and infectious agents. When I was in the fire service, and times before that, I kind of ignored that section. When I got into health care, I said, wait a second, what are blood borne pathogens, what are infectious diseases, what's biohazardous waste? A hazard. One of my mantras that I would constantly convey is that if you deal with a blood borne pathogen, an infectious disease, or biohazardous waste as if it were a hazardous material, you are much more likely to have a safe and effective response. We saw this working throughout the system. The ones who adopted it effectively, are the ones who tend to fare better.

Jill James:

Yeah, this is a really great point for our listeners, particularly anyone who's maybe starting out in the career. I've heard our mutual friend, he was the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences refer to the HAZWOPER standard as that blueprint or backbone of all that is health and safety response. If you pull it apart and do exactly what you're describing, Paul, it's so applicable to so many different situations for safety and health professionals as a starting point to try to figure out how to handle something.

Paul Penn:

Again, going back to the Incident Command System, to my knowledge, it is the first place where the words, Incident Command System, show up in any regulations. Look how it's evolved throughout the country and throughout the world. I had the opportunity to teach a lot of this material north of our border in Canada and Mexico, in Israel, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where it actually had a British model. I think the Incident Command System has really become the system throughout the world.

Jill James:

Yeah. Paul, I know we're getting close on our time but there's a few other things I wanted to ask about, if you don't mind.

Paul Penn:

Please, I'm here for you.

Jill James:

You had mentioned in your do-gooder setup, that you've also been part of many boards and committees and commissions and councils. I'd like to hear a little bit about that. In particular, for our listeners, when they're building a career or you're at a certain point in your career right now. What that affords you and what doors that has opened for you? What have you learned from those things? Can you talk a little bit about some of those boards and committees and commissions.

Paul Penn:

As I was indicating, I ended up on the board of the New Paltz rescue squad, again, volunteer. The only college student at that point. Then, I moved on. I guess it's a personal testament where people had approached me to say, there is this opening, would you be interested? It was wonderful when I was on the board of, again, the Donner Summit Public Utility District. One thing to your listeners, don't be afraid to start small. Often, you get a much larger understanding and broader perspective if you start off in small organizations because you're doing everything.

Paul Penn:

If you're working in a large organization and you are compartmentalized in the work you do, it doesn't give you that broader perspective. Currently, for example, I'm the immediate past president of my local hospice, volunteer board but we are now gone from ... We're 41 years old. Then started as an all volunteer organization is now a $20 million a year operation, providing hospice services with no charge to families or patients doing incredible work. I am on the National Hospital Incident Command System Advisory Committee. Where we met through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences the worker training program that I've been on the advisory board on the western regional university consortium, which has HAZWOPER training, disaster training, often for minority workers, unionized workers, under resourced communities, that really helps you to develop the skill set to develop the connections, again, part of is connections. I often don't get my work out of there, but I know many people who have parlayed that work and the council's commissions. I'm also the vice chair of my local fire safe committee, that council which is like 20 square blocks, well, I live in the country, so I know square blocks, but you get the idea. Large and small. It allows you to understand how organizations work and how you can fit in and where you can help make decisions. Also, where you don't stick your nose into. I'm known for sticking my nose in place that doesn't belong and it's got me in trouble all my life. I've often been an advocate. Again, it's gotten me in trouble all my life, but I do not regret any of that. Sometimes when you're willing to advocate for people who are not in the decision making room, that's what it's important. I'll go back and talk about, there are two things without which whatever program you're doing is doomed to fail. Because if you do not have a real demonstrable, substantive, long term commitment of executive support, your program is going to fail. The other thing that you need is you need champions. You need champions in three places in your organization, you need champions inside that C suite, that executive suite, you need someone who's going to advocate for you when you're not there, number one. You need people in the trenches to support you. That's why when I was in Kaiser, one of the first things I did is I worked closely with our unions. I remember when I got there, there was a big talk about labor management partnerships. I said, "Where's the labor rep on our safety committee?" They looked at me like I had two heads. They said, "You can't do that." I said, "Of course, I can do that." I said, "If you don't have the people who are doing the actual work, first of all, you’re consider the enemy in many respects, because you're imposing things on them. They’re the ones who really knows what's going on."My alliances with the nurse's union, and SEIU, who are primary unions at Kaiser became my biggest allies. There's the third place where you need champions, and this is in some respects, the most daunting, and it's the place where in organizations things go to die. That's middle management, because they are caught between a rock and a hard spot. Management wants them to do more with less. The people down below in the trenches, they're the ones who are getting beat up all the time. When it comes to training and preparedness and things like that, in healthcare, they're just trying to keep the doors open tomorrow. Executive support and champions are the things you need. I think my experience on those councils and committees and commissions and things like that, really do help.

Jill James:

Yeah, that's fascinating to break it down into those three areas, Paul. As you're saying, that I'm thinking about my career and different jobs that I've had and who those ... I can name those individuals in places. I've always been good at the labor piece and having those advocates and it's taken some time in my career to be able to find those champions in the C suite and or being part of it. Particularly for people starting out to be brave enough to know that you need that and to pursue that and to ask for that help and to make yourself known.

Jill James:

Middle management, you know what, you just taught me something I really hadn't thought about that. I'm thinking about where I made those alliances and I did. In particular, it was helpful for the middle managers who had budget and access to money that would help me get where I wanted to go with them.

Paul Penn:

Let me just give you an example of how to work that. I was also given the responsibility to work on employee injury reduction program at Kaiser. As we all know, healthcare workers have some of the highest injury rates of any profession out there, often associated with patient lifting.

Jill James:

That's right.

Paul Penn:

Then, the other place is the lifting and pulling that environmental service and medical records had, but ...

Jill James:

Musculoskeletal injuries.

Paul Penn:

I realized that I had to convince the executives, the chief nursing officer, the head of finance, all the rest of those. Before I went to give a formal presentation, I met with just about everyone on that C suite to talk to them about the project, to give them ownership. Each of them had different motivations. Our chief nursing officer was really into nurse recruitment and retention. You say, well, this is one of the things that's going to allow you to be the employer of choice because you're reducing the threat to their backs, right, in terms of lifting. Or that they are able to stay longer in the job because they don't have a bad back. I remember, our chief nursing officer was a former ICU nurse. I said, "Do you know any ICU nurse with 20 years in the job that doesn't have a bad back." She turned to me and she goes, "You're wrong." I said “huh?” She goes, "10 years." The finance person and risk management person was worried about workers comp costs. What you do is to address each of those, you have now gained an ally and they have investment in the success of your program.

Jill James:

Meet them where they are.

Paul Penn:

When I went to make the formal presentation and get the approval, I had already worked the background. That's the hard work that you do, but understanding everyone's got different motivations, both personal and professional and incorporating that into your approach is very important to success. . If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, follow our page and join the Accidental Safety Pro Community group on Facebook. If you aren't subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, subscribe in iTunes, the Apple podcast app or any other podcast player you'd like. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes. It really helps us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals like you and I and Paul. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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