Young technician brings safety to every aspect of life

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  • By 200869
Justin Weibert, Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) technical specialist for the safety and health group, is like many young adults after graduating high school--uncertain about what direction life is taking them.

Weibert really enjoyed the outdoors and always wanted to try his hand at being a carpenter but was encouraged to give college a try for at least one year.

"I never really did like college," he admitted. "I went to the carpenter's union after my first year of college because I always wanted to do that-- be a carpenter. Or at least that's what I thought I wanted to do."

Like the old saying, "you never know how it feels until you are in their shoes," Weibert quickly realized carpentry wasn't for him.

"I did some construction when I was younger and I was able to work with my dad and on some side jobs," he said. "I've always enjoyed the hands-on learning and the hands-on work, so that's what I really wanted to do, but when I got into the carpenter's union it was more of assembly line work and I didn't really like that."

Since that didn't work out, Weibert immediately had to make a decision--go back to college or continue in construction.

He decided to go back to college to at least get his general education courses out of the way, but still did not feel he was meant to be there.

"After two years of taking general education courses and still not having a direction, my dad suggested putting my resume out at a few places for entry level positions and see what comes up," he said. "My dad also recommended doing something in safety because he thought it would be something I would enjoy."

As a result, some options came up and a job was open in Tennessee at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC). Ironically, Weibert's sister had relocated to Smyrna so he jumped at the chance.

"I thought this might be a good opportunity so I came down for an interview and got the job," he said. "I have been working in the safety and health group for almost three years now."

In this position, Weibert does a variety of jobs with different skill and education backgrounds. He basically performs tasks in two groups of jobs: industrial hygiene and public health.

"In the industrial hygiene part I work with asbestos and hazardous materials like lead to help the project monitors make sure if they do a renovation or something they've looked for all the hazardous materials," he explained. "I then help them come up with some sort of process to get rid of the materials in their remodeling timeline."

He has also been involved in some industrial hygiene surveys which involve surveying the work force and trying to take another look at their job to make sure that what they are doing is not causing long-term health effects.

"We want to recognize the hazards of their job and help to eliminate [the hazards] if possible," he said. "But, if we can't eliminate, we want to protect them from the dangers of their job."

According to Weibert, one of the main goals of the safety and health group is to "work together to empower the employee to recognize hazards in their own job and protect themselves and other people they work with."

The second job Weibert primarily does at AEDC is considered under the public health arena.

"Some would consider public health a part of industrial hygiene, but out here it's almost a job in and of itself," he commented. "I got out and do sanitation inspections on public facilities, reviewing the sanitary compliance of that facility and making sure it is all in compliance with the different codes."

Weibert also looks at the food facilities like the Main Cafeteria and the A&E cafeteria. He considers himself a second set of eyes to go in the facility and help make sure they are recognizing what they already know: are they keeping food at the safe temperature requirements, are they storing food safely, are they receiving foods safely and are they handling the food safely.

"All those things are taken into consideration and much more when you do an
inspection," he explained. "I am really more of a reference point because I am not going to get them in trouble. I am just there to help them see and fix things before the state inspectors come and inspect twice a year."

Public health also involves vector compliance monitoring--making sure the base anthropologist is taking care of pests on base. Vectors and pests can range anywhere from pesticides on plants to insects in an office area.

"I have done a little bit of mosquito monitoring, which is one of the biggest pests out here," he commented. "We have traps set up at different locations to monitor the public health issue and then identify which species they are from."

Weibert has also been involved in a few dumpster dives, which he deems a fun part of his job.

"We check dumpsters to make sure people are throwing stuff away they should be throwing away," he explained. "For instance if there is construction material it needs to go to the right landfill and if there is something like paint, we want to make sure that gets disposed of properly too."

One of Weibert's biggest pleasures from his job is being able to work outdoors.

"There are definitely a lot of opportunities to get out in the field," he explained. "I love getting out there and hanging out with the guys and making sure I am there to help them."

He also mentioned liking his job for the fact that when these opportunities arise, he is not only out in the field, but he is able to collect data, run tests, use instruments and equipment and all the while working with different people.

One of the most challenging parts of his job, Weibert concedes is the part about being right.

"A lot of the times safety is more or less right and wrong," he said. "But when you are talking about industrial hygiene, you get into a best practices mode instead of the right and wrong mentality. You want to do what is safe, but you also don't want to go overboard and that's a real fine line to walk on because you are asking yourself constantly 'is this step that I am going to take worth the impact that it is going to have on someone's health.'"

Sometimes, Weibert admits, in industrial hygiene, a solution cannot be solved immediately and it's hard to convey that to the work force who looks for the right or wrong answer.

Looking back on how he ended up in safety, Weibert did not realize the amount of experience, although minimal, he had before coming to this job.

"I was really shocked when I got out here and doing a lot of the work they had me
doing because I couldn't believe I actually had done some of the stuff before," he explained.

"Like with public health, I had worked at camps before and knew about the food requirements and safety in the kitchen. I also had construction experience which helped in industrial hygiene."

According to Weibert, the most satisfying part of his job is the values his customers take after he's helped them with a situation.

"I feel the best about my job when someone sees the value in what I am asking them to do," he explained. "Because when there is that transfer of value I think my mission has been accomplished."

For instance, when a team is working on a roof, they just don't see the purpose of wearing a harness.

"There is not reset button," he said. "It's hard to convey to a worker who's been working on the roof 20 years of their life, done the jobs time and time again and then one time they get too close and fall off. But when I can convey that to them and they just understand and see that life is important outside of work too and I go back the next time and see they are wearing the harness, that is definitely the best part of my job--knowing they took that value to heart."

Weibert sums up the safety and health field in a few short words, "A lot of what we do is not just a science. It's kind of an art of interpretation and using the information we have from science."

Once he found his niche at AEDC, Weibert decided to take the opportunity to go back to school and finish his bachelor's and is currently starting his master's in occupational safety and health at MTSU.