Al Grant: Health and safety expertise makes sound career choice

Al Grant made health and safety his career. Now he and colleague Phillip Galloway are working with CTC and industry professionals to launch a bachelor’s degree to meet demand in the field. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Al Grant made health and safety his career. Now he and colleague
Phillip Galloway are working with CTC and industry professionals
to launch a bachelor’s degree to meet demand in the field.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
It all started when Al Grant volunteered to do something outside the scope of his normal job, and it changed his life.

As an airman in the U.S. Air Force, Grant’s primary responsibility was to drive fuel trucks, which he’d been doing since he first enlisted in 1978. His reasoning behind the selection was twofold—driving fuel trucks afforded him the flexibility to select his assignment location, as well as an accelerated promotion following basic training.

At the time, Grant was eager to prove himself. He had left the University of South Carolina partway through his sophomore year after realizing he wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do.

His parents had stressed to him and his nine siblings again and again the value of a getting a good education. As Grant explained, his parents were nonprofessional people who were committed to finding a way for their children to go to college if they wanted to pursue their education beyond high school. Of course, graduating from high school was non-negotiable.

“It was ingrained in us that education was the pathway to advancement,” said Grant.

Not wanting to disappoint his parents, he regrouped and developed a new game plan for his future. That’s when he joined the military, and the military unexpectedly opened the door to the career path he couldn’t quite identify when he left college.

While stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Grant volunteered for a year-long assignment as the safety coordinator for his supply squadron, which took him away from his role driving fuel trucks and placed him into a role performing inspections and leading safety training. The assignment was his first introduction to safety as a career path, and he fell in love with the job. Rather than return to his former role as a fuel truck driver, he applied for retraining and graduated from safety specialist school in 1984.

“That’s how I found my path into safety, and I’m just so fortunate that I did,” said Grant. “It’s a people business.”

Serving as a safety coordinator in the military gave Grant a unique opportunity to liaise with civilian safety professionals and to work under their supervision. While on active duty, he continued to pursue his education. He spent the last six years of his military career stationed in Alaska and completed his graduate work shortly after retiring.

Grant worked for a number of years in private industry but eventually found his way to Kenai Peninsula College’s (KPC) Anchorage extension where he was hired to be an assistant professor in the Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) associate degree program. In July 2015, Grant joined faculty in the UAA Community & Technical College when administration and delivery of the program transferred from KPC.

For Grant, safety is more than a passion, it’s a calling, which is evident in his teaching. When he explains the role of a safety professional, his eyes take on an intensity and his voice becomes earnest.

“Our sole pursuit is to identify hazards in the work environment that would likely lead to incidents, be it property loss, personal injury or damage to the environment, and devise ways to control those hazards,” he said. “Ideally, we’d like to eliminate them but in some cases that’s not possible. When we can’t eliminate them through design we try to provide adequate barriers between the hazard and our people.”

Grant elaborated that the whole purpose of the safety profession goes back to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. At the time, the United States was losing too many able-bodied Americans to workplace accidents. Congress passed legislation aimed at protecting the country’s human resources.

This paved the way for the rise of the occupational safety and health profession, particularly in industries that carry greater risk such as mining, aviation, oil and gas, and construction.

“Here in the state of Alaska our wealth is in our natural resources,” said Grant. “Getting our natural resources, in a lot of respects, is high-risk and high-hazard. So, we know we need people training in this profession consistently.”

This is the reason that senior representatives of the oil and gas industry approached the University of Alaska Statewide Office of Academic Affairs in late 2012 to discuss the growing industry need to hire Alaskans that hold a bachelor’s degree in the health and safety field. This led to the development of a statewide industry-university advisory board that recommended the development of an OSH bachelor’s degree program at UAA. The university responded by hiring another OSH faculty member to support program expansion.

At this time, CTC is preparing to launch a bachelor’s degree. Grant and his colleague Phillip Galloway are working closely with industry representatives to ensure the new degree meets the needs of Alaska’s major employers of safety professionals. Additionally, they are working to earn program accreditation through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc. or ABET. Accreditation signifies the program meets standards of quality and excellence that prepare students to enter the industry.

“I’m so invested in this business,” said Grant. “It’s the people element of this job that makes it so exciting and enjoyable. I want my students to know that even those times when you leave work at the end of the day and didn’t quite win that battle, the people are the reason you’re in the fray. This is the reason you’re willing to fight because you know it’s going to protect somebody.”

Written by Kirstin Olmstead, Communications Coordinator, UAA Community & Technical College. 

This story originally appeared in Green & Gold News on Feb. 17, 2016.
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Al Grant: Health and safety expertise makes sound career choice
Al Grant: Health and safety expertise makes sound career choice
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