Jennifer McNelly is the American Society of Safety Professionals’ (ASSP’s) eighth executive director since the organization was founded over 100 years ago. Alongside new President Rixio Medina, she is determined “to make a difference” by ensuring “a safer future for workplaces everywhere.”

“The ASSP executive director is charged with advancing the organization’s mission to create safer and healthier work environments across the globe,” she said. “I wake up in the morning thinking about how the society can help improve the world as a leading workplace safety organization.

“I’m a strategic thinker who is constantly navigating the future landscape. That’s my strength. That characteristic enables me to better help ASSP advance the occupational safety and health profession as well as the individuals who choose it as a career. I want our members to always think big. Unless we set the bar high, we’ll never know if we can reach it.”

Since 1911, ASSP has been at the forefront of occupational safety and health, helping professionals protect people and property. Its global membership of more than 38,000 professionals covers every industry, developing safety and health management systems that prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities on the job.

“ASSP advances its members and the safety profession,” McNelly said. “We are working together for a safer, stronger future.”

Prior to coming on board at ASSP, McNelly held positions at The Manufacturing Institute — an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) — and the U.S. Department of Labor, which she said amply prepared her for her current role.

“My experience with partnership development, education and standards, the U.S. Department of Labor and The Manufacturing Institute was critical in my journey to ASSP,” McNelly said. “Occupational safety and health is a great profession to be part of because it affects anyone with a job. ASSP has a significant opportunity to make the world a better place.”

For almost a decade with NAM, McNelly led national efforts to improve the perception of manufacturing careers, build a quality workforce pipeline and align public policy. She also launched the organization’s STEP Ahead initiative in 2013 to recognize and highlight opportunities for women in manufacturing.

“The initiative changed lives and helped give women a voice in leadership,” McNelly recounted. “I remember all of the women receiving a standing ovation at the end of our first event. It was a powerful and emotional moment — one that I’ll never forget.”

McNelly plans to bring that same spirit of innovation and continuous improvement to ASSP.

“Leading ASSP on an upward trajectory is always the objective, especially in the areas of membership growth and the global influence of our members,” she said. “Research shows that more than 60 percent of students make career decisions based on interest and experience, so ASSP has a big opportunity to build a strong movement and achieve significant growth. We won’t be afraid to try new things and learn from our mistakes.”

New name, same mission

ASSP’s members are deeply rooted in every industry across the globe, representing the many diverse disciplines that make up the dynamic occupational safety and health community. With this in mind, ASSP launched a new brand this past June, changing the final word of its name from “Engineers” to “Professionals” to emphasize inclusivity beyond any one particular field. It also debuted a refreshed logo, redesigned website and rebranded social media channels.

“It’s all part of the need for inclusion as we build career pathways, evolve with our profession and stay at the forefront of workplace safety,” McNelly explained. “ASSP’s updated brand better reflects its current membership and positions the society for growth with young safety professionals.

“We support the advancement of our global members and the safety profession as a whole.”

The organization’s mission, however, remains unchanged.

“ASSP remains focused on four strategic pillars in supporting its global membership: education, advocacy, standards development and a professional community,” McNelly said. “Focusing on standards and education, ASSP must meet the evolving needs its members face every day, serving as an authoritative, go-to source for expertise.”

But the organization’s ultimate goal, McNelly added, is for ASSP members to improve their organizations’ competitiveness and change the paradigm from reactive to proactive when it comes to protecting workers.

“Well-equipped safety professionals can influence and inform the frontlines, promoting a shared accountability from everyone who walks into a company,” she said. “A safe organization is a successful organization. Sound safety practices are both socially responsible and good business, leading to increased productivity, a better reputation and higher employee satisfaction.”

Institute’s launch ‘a big deal in the industry’

Shortly before McNelly came on board, the organization launched the ASSP Certification and Accreditation Institute. This independent entity has begun working with companies to certify their workplace safety and health processes to established standards, which demonstrates their commitment to quality.

“The institute’s certification mark reflects a company’s investment in occupational safety and health management and is expected to provide a competitive advantage,” McNelly remarked. “The creation of the institute further drives the evolution of workplace safety and health worldwide. It’s a big deal in the industry.”

The institute is yet another way to address what McNelly identified as ASSP’s greatest challenge: amplifying the voice of its membership to impact government and industry decision makers.

“We must help occupational safety and health professionals expand their sphere of influence to drive system changes that help prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities,” McNelly concluded. “There is a wealth of knowledge across our global membership base. That capability needs to be harnessed to increase ASSP’s impact and better position our members as the experts they are.”

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Another exciting new leader: Medina on diversifying safety

Another exciting new addition to ASSP leadership is President Rixio Medina, who came aboard this past July and will serve a one-year term in the position.

“We’re very fortunate to be bringing Jennifer to ASSP,” said Medina. “We’re extremely excited about the future and how she can help us. We have a vision and strategic plan for the coming year, with a number of key initiatives that we’re advancing: One is advancing women in safety and bringing more diversity to the safety profession, making sure everyone has equal opportunities and positioning these leaders for greatness the same way other members are, so we’re working with a number of stakeholders to address women in safety.

“We’re also working with NIOSH, OSHA, and other professional organizations and companies to help employers achieve a better level of performance with Hispanics in the workplace. There’s a disproportionate number of occupational fatalities for Hispanics in the U.S., primarily in construction, so we’ll continue working to develop strategies for employers to identify areas for improvement and ensure the safety of this group of employees.”

Medina is a former oil and gas industry executive who now provides occupational safety, fire protection, process safety and security consulting services in the U.S. and abroad. His four decades of experience include 30 years at CITGO Petroleum Corp., as well as technical and management positions at Mobil Oil Corp., BP and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.