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J. J. Keller protects people and the businesses they run. You can trust our expertise across a wide range of subjects relating to labor, transportation, environmental, and worker safety. Our deep knowledge of federal and state agencies is built on a strong foundation of more than 100 editors and consultants and 70+ years of regulatory compliance experience.

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J. J. Keller protects people and the businesses they run. You can trust our expertise across a wide range of subjects relating to labor, transportation, environmental, and worker safety. Our deep knowledge of federal and state agencies is built on a strong foundation of more than 100 editors and consultants and 70+ years of regulatory compliance experience.

Safety Professional of the Year

Wallon of CHEP Is 2022 J. J. Keller Safety Professional of the Year

Spreeman of Columbia Grain International & Cox of Verizon Also Place

For immediate release (September 30, 2022)

Neenah, WI - J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., announced today that Sara Wallon, HSE Director - North America with CHEP U.S., a Brambles company, is the 2022 J. J. Keller Safety Professional of the Year (SPOTY) Award winner. William Spreeman, Director of Safety for Columbia Grain International, placed second, and Pam Cox, Executive Director of EHS Worldwide for Verizon, placed third.

The SPOTY Awards, now in their 20th year, are among the most prestigious recognition for safety professionals, highlighting those who achieve excellence by building a culture and vision for safety and ensuring employees return home each day to their families. The winning safety professionals were selected by members of J. J. Keller’s staff of 70+ safety consultants and editors.

First Place: Sara Wallon, HSE Director – North America, CHEP

Wallon joined CHEP in 2019 as the HSE Director – North America understanding she would have aggressive corporate targets of reducing injuries and workers compensation costs for 4,000 associates across 97 locations. The company – a global leader in managed, returnable and reusable packaging solutions – had a great foundation for safety, but leadership knew it could keep workers safer. And Wallon and her team of 31 safety professionals exceeded expectations. Under her safety leadership, and within 2 years, CHEP:

  • Reduced its North American injury frequency rate by 45%
  • Reduced its North American LTIR (lost-time injury rate) by 23%

“I joined CHEP welcoming the fact that there were ambitious goals, because I didn’t want to be part of a culture where the safety role was maintaining the status quo. I enjoy putting plans in place to reduce risk,” said Wallon.

The first step was transforming the company’s existing approach to safety.

“In joining CHEP, the most important need was to keep employees safe,” said Wallon, “When beginning in my role, I listened to feedback and evaluated the existing safety approach to identify areas to improve our policy, including how to engage some employees who weren’t following it.”

Those plans included:

  • Partnering with key stakeholders in the business – engineering, automation, operations, compliance, purchasing – to create and implement Management of Change procedures to evaluate new equipment and processes prior to installation/change, to eliminate unacceptable risk to workers.
  • Creating an environment to allow Human Organizational Performance (HOP) philosophy to thrive and transform the organization into a learning organization.
  • Implementing 15-minute Monday, Wednesday, Friday night “Safety Differently” calls to discuss successes and opportunities operations leaders are facing.

Wallon’s successes at CHEP are a continuation of a track record she began working in the aerospace and mining industries, where she reduced total recordable incident rate (TRIR), LTIR and safety citations by 50% or more in 12 months’ time. Now, with Wallon’s team, CHEP U.S. has seen the steepest improvement trends of the full Brambles organization, its parent company operating in more than 60 countries. CHEP U.S. has witnessed and is seeing the lowest injury rates on record for the region.

Wallon, nominated by a member of her safety team, develops and coaches her team through mentorship, active listening and anonymous feedback through annual surveys. Together they have successfully changed the safety culture to emphasize people first and continuous improvement.

In honor of Wallon as the first-place J. J. Keller SPOTY Award winner, a $2,500 donation will be made to the 501(c)3 organization of her choice, and CHEP will receive a free one-year subscription to the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE for Wallon’s staff (up to 10 users), $1,200 in free online training from J. J. Keller, and $250 toward J. J. Keller® SAFEGEARTM personal protective equipment. Spreeman and Cox will also receive donations in their name, J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE subscriptions and J. J. Keller® SAFEGEARTM merchandise.

Second Place: William Spreeman, Director of Safety, Columbia Grain International

Spreeman has been a champion for safety for 40 years, the last three of which have been with Columbia Grain International, a leading supplier of bulk grain, pulses, edible beans, and oilseeds worldwide for the northern tier of the United States.

“I have an absolute dedication and commitment to the elimination of employee injuries,” said Spreeman. “I have dedicated my career to protecting every employee that works for my company from injury.”

An employee fatality earlier in his career created the passion that has driven him to eliminate workplace hazards. At Columbia Grain, Spreeman was tasked with evolving the company’s safety culture and fostering a strong relationship with OSHA. Today, Columbia Grain International is recognized by OSHA as a company dedicated to the safety of its employees.

“The agricultural industry has a long history of challenges associated with safe entry into grain bins to conduct maintenance or to address grain quality issues,” said Spreeman. “Columbia Grain International is dedicated to meeting this challenge to cultivate a more vigilant safety culture now and into the future.”

His goals upon joining the company were extensive:

  • Educate both agricultural workers within the company as well as on farms about the hazards
  • Provide proven standards of operation and equipment to address challenges related to bin entry
  • create training outreach events and resources for the industry
  • Participate in “stand up for grain safety” week to support education for all agricultural workers
  • Identify resources needed to greatly improve safety of bin entries
  • Encourage practice and routine reminders of requirements associated with bin entries
  • Recognize responders and participants for practice and skills demonstrations
  • Benchmark the Columbia Grain International safety culture within the agriculture industry

He gained buy-in for this approach using data and industry history, as well as past successes he led at similar organizations. The metrics are proof of his passion. Columbia Grain International’s results are benchmarked against 96 other agricultural companies, with targeted performance to be in the industry’s top quartile for TRIR and DART and minimum performance to be better than the industry average. Even so, Spreeman has more he seeks to achieve.

“My vision is that Columbia Grain International has every single employee participating in a specific documented daily safety discussion with at least one other employee, and at the finish of the conversation, they understand it takes a team to be safe,” he said.

Third Place: Pam Cox, Executive Director of EHS Worldwide, Verizon

Cox, who has been with Verizon for 18 years in various roles, now leads the EHS team worldwide, helping to ensure the safety of more than 119,800 employees at 34,410 locations. Her team includes 43 EHS specialists in ergonomics, industrial hygiene, field safety, IT systems, supplier safety and compliance.

About three years ago, many separate EHS departments at Verizon were merged into one EHS team to deploy one strategy and vision across this leading technology and telecommunications company. Led by Cox, the unified team maintains ISO 14001 and 45001 certifications and changed the safety culture by focusing on beSAFE values and Lifesaving Principles.

Verizon’s beSAFE values—be Smart, Aware, Focused and Equipped—are the foundation of the organization’s safety culture, and its Lifesaving Principles, developed in 2021, encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for their safety and that of those around them.

“We increased employee engagement through a robust communications program that uses various media to engage with each employee in a way that will have the most impact. Our goal is to embed safety as a value in all employees’ DNA and to encourage them to share our safety tips with their family and friends,” said Cox.

“Through the Lifesaving Principles, employees began to hear a consistent positive and non-threatening conversation around safety whereby we could celebrate whenever we stopped work to prevent and correct an unsafe situation.”

The success of Verizon’s safety culture can be seen in safety metrics:

  • Verizon’s 2021 occupational injuries and illnesses rate was one per 100 employees, well below the Bureau of Labor Statistics telecommunications industry average of 1.7.
  • The number of Verizon employees who made a voluntary safety pledge increased ten times from 2019 to 2021.
  • Verizon’s experience modifier rate (EMR) – a number used to determine the likelihood of workers comp claims – continues to go down.

Other metrics used by Cox’s team include on-time completion of safety training, safety training hours, near misses, safety observations, lost workdays, vehicle incident rate and agency inspections.

In addition to encouraging employee engagement, the EHS team frequently introduces new technologies and innovative ways to keep people safe. Recent examples include wearables that warn of stray voltage in a work zone or that track muscle strain, telematics and other technology in vehicles to keep drivers safe, and a specialized utility-cover lifter to reduce back strain and sprains.

Cox’s team’s next steps in health and safety will be to continue redesigning work to remove hazards. According to Cox, “When we can’t remove hazards, we need to look for ways to design the work so our employees can, if they must, fail safely. We need to remember that we all have the same goal: for people to return home in the same condition they arrived in at work.

“I would like to see more forums where we can share the best practices on driver safety, supplier safety and other safety challenges. I would also like to see more companies move away from OSHA metrics and instead focus more on the serious-case and continuous-improvement approach of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).”

Free Webcast Scheduled: Hear the Stories of These Outstanding Safety Professionals

Join J. J. Keller and the SPOTY winners on Tuesday, October 18, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. central time, for a free webcast titled Outstanding Stories of Safety: Meet the J. J. Keller Safety Professional of the Year Winners. Rick Malchow, Industry Advisor with J. J. Keller, will interview Wallon, Spreeman and Cox to learn how they have created a safety-first culture, safety metrics and achievements, and their personal commitment to keeping employees safe. Register at Outstanding Stories of Safety: Meet the J. J. Keller Safety Professional of the Year Winners (on24.com)

About CHEP
CHEP helps move more goods to more people, in more places than any other organization on earth. Its pallets, crates and containers form the invisible backbone of the global supply chain and the world’s biggest brands trust CHEP to help them transport their goods more efficiently, sustainably and safely. As pioneers of the sharing economy, CHEP created one of the world's most sustainable logistics businesses through the share and reuse of its platforms under a model known as ‘pooling’. CHEP’s ambition is to create a positive impact on the planet and society, pioneering regenerative supply chains. CHEP primarily serves the fast-moving consumer goods (e.g. dry food, grocery, and health and personal care), fresh produce, beverage, retail and general manufacturing industries. CHEP employs approximately 12,000 people and believes in the power of collective intelligence through diversity, inclusion and teamwork. CHEP owns approximately 360 million pallets, crates and containers through a network of more than 750 service centers, supporting more than 500,000 customer touch-points for global brands such as Procter & Gamble, Sysco and Nestlé. CHEP is part of the Brambles Group and operates in approximately 60 countries with its largest operations in North America and Western Europe.

About Columbia Grain International
Since 1978, Columbia Grain International (CGI) has been Cultivating Growth as a global leader in the origination, processing, logistics, and distribution of high-quality bulk grains, pulses, edible beans, oilseeds and organics for U.S. domestic and worldwide export markets. Headquartered in Portland, OR, CGI’s reliable supply chain spans the northern tier of the US, ensuring abundant ingredients for all of its partners, thanks to their trusted relationships with their farmers throughout the fertile croplands of Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, well known for its high-quality wheat, feed grains, canola and pulses. CGI is an owner of Montana Specialty Mills, who operates an organic and non-GMO oilseed crushing facility in Great Falls, Montana, a mustard seed facility in Conrad, Montana, and most recently Montana Craft Malt —providing specialty malt barley from Montana farmers to the craft brewing world. Today, they are vertically integrated, operating assets including grain elevators, processing plants and agronomy centers to support their farmers, which stretch the northern tier of the United States. With multiple touch points across the food supply chain, CGI provides trusted solutions and cultivates high-quality ingredients from their local farmers for a farm to table philosophy that nourishes the world, safely.

About J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Since we began as a family-owned company in 1953, our purpose at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. has been to protect people and the businesses they run. Today, serving 500,000+ companies across North America, our associates are making a larger impact than ever. Transportation, construction, utility, healthcare, education and industrial organizations of all sizes rely on our expert insights to create safe work environments and simplify complex government regulations. They trust our diversified portfolio of solutions – cloud-based management tools, consulting, professional services, training, forms, PPE and safety supplies – to safeguard workers, reduce risk and build operational confidence. Learn more at jjkeller.com and follow us on LinkedIn (opens a new window), X (opens a new window), and Facebook (opens a new window).

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