OSH Generations is about family and the safety profession. Many OSH professionals have parents or children who are also in the profession. Our members share their stories of the people who influenced them to enter the safety profession or those who they inspired to become safety professionals.
Here's the story of Jimmy Leon Chatham, a safety professional with more than 50 years in the oil and gas industry who has held a CSP since 1977, and his grandson, Collin Sinclair, who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in OSH. We spoke to Chatham about his experience in the profession and the role of mentoring.
Entering the Profession
OSH professionals know that there are many ways to begin a safety career. For Jimmy Leon Chatham, his bachelor’s degree in education wasn’t directly connected to his future OSH path, but it would inform his relationship with his work and with mentorship.
“One Sunday, I tore an ad out of a local newspaper for an insurance company in Oklahoma City that was looking for an insurance adjuster trainee,” Chatham says.
Even though his resume only included a stint at a grocery store, some ranch work and a position as a laborer in an oil field, he mailed his resume and hoped for the best. He received a phone call a few weeks later inviting him to Oklahoma City for an interview.
When he arrived, he found that the insurance adjuster position had been filled, but the company was interested in him for another role as a loss control trainee, which included a 1-year training program.
“I told them I did not know what that was, but I was agreeable to it,” Chatham says.
This started his career in OSH.
"I had no idea it would be a rewarding career and allow me to travel and work around the world,” he says. “As a result, I have worked in Yemen, Nigeria, Angola, Canada, Mexico, Alaska, France, Norway, Hawaii, Scotland, England, Tunisia, Dubai and Kazakhstan. I have also worked in every oil field in the lower 48 states of the U.S. at one time or another.”
An Interested Grandchild
Chatham’s grandson, Collin Sinclair, grew up listening to stories about his grandfather’s international work assignments and travels. He often helped on the farm and ranch with planting, pecan and hay harvesting, and general equipment maintenance.
Chatham used this as an opportunity to share some farm safety guidance. He recognized that his grandson had a lot of great qualities that would make him an asset to the safety profession.
“I noted he had a good mechanical mind and the ability to finish a job without much delay or repeated instructions,” Chatham says. “When we had a chance to talk about this, he asked what I really did at work.”
Sinclair asked how to get involved, and Chatham took him to our Region III Professional Development Conference in Fort Worth, TX. Sinclair, who was 19 years old at the time, listened to his grandfather present a session called “Living and Working Internationally.” Later, he met Del Tally, a past Society president.
“Del talked up the profession and said that he should follow in his grandfather’s footsteps,” Chatham recalls.
This inspired Sinclair. He attended a few introductory undergraduate classes that his grandfather was teaching at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He also took his grandfather’s course on oil and gas safety.
“He had to work twice as hard to get the A, as I told him, ‘No favoritism.’ And I promised the department head the same thing,” Chatham says.
Becoming a Mentor
During his career, Chatham had the opportunity to mentor others, which he found fulfilling. He sees mentorship as a great way to give back to the profession. But when it comes to his mentees, Chatham may have a slight favorite.
Chatham’s advice for getting others involved in the OSH profession: Talk it up.“When Collin told me he wanted to pursue the OSH degree, I was elated and my heart felt as if it would burst from the pride,” Chatham says. “That is why, when I had the chance, I asked to present his diploma on stage.”
“Share experiences, take high school kids to your ASSP professional development conference opening day when family is allowed,” he says. “Let them know what you do as a safety professional: how you help companies work safe and the rewards you, as an individual, receive simply for doing the job.”
Chatham explains how presentations to local schools, places of worship and civic organizations can help others get involved.
“I had the opportunity to speak to my wife’s hometown Lions Club when I was home on leave from Yemen one summer and it was well received,” he says. “Allow the young ones to visit with other safety professionals and see them in action.”
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