Holly Brown, Senior Geologist, AECOM's Environmental Business Line
Holly Brown did not begin her career with safety at top of mind. An admitted risk taker in her younger years — she spent two months in frigid Antarctica creating the first-ever U.S. map of the Dry Valleys — Holly came to appreciate the importance of safety as her career progressed.
The Germantown, Maryland-based senior geologist holds numerous project management and team leadership responsibilities within AECOM. While her work is diverse, there is a common thread running through it all: a commitment to safety. This is exemplified by the safety trained supervisor (STS) certification she earned from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, her numerous internal AECOM recognitions — including the Safety Star, Rising Young Star and Safety Challenge Coin awards — and appreciation from our clients, from whom she earned the SH&E Excellence Award and the prestigious Global Contractor Safety Council Award for demonstrating exceptional commitment to safety that led to zero incidents at a high-profile project site in the northeast U.S. For International Women in Engineering Day, we talked to Holly about her career and dedication to safety.
What is your role at AECOM?
I wear many different hats. As a senior geologist, I’m a subject matter expert on geology, where I focus on soil and water remediation and lead a team of 10 professionals. We’re dedicated to remediating contaminated media with expertise in chlorinated solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals, PFAS and PCBs. In 2022, I helped develop AECOM’s Chemical Center of Excellence that provides standardized quality of chemistry deliverables across the firm, coupled with enterprise capabilities engagement for various client portfolios. I’m currently the project manager for a major remediation effort for a U.S. military base where I also serve as a site safety and health officer.
How did you develop your focus on safety?
Being attuned to safety came naturally to me, having worked on many job sites in different sectors of the environmental business and seeing the lessons learned from safety incidents and near misses. I’m of the mindset that these incidents were all preventable, with the proper safety training, education and communication. I believe that everyone should be brought into a culture of safety so it’s of utmost importance for all team members, regardless of their role on the project.
I took the Board of Certified Safety Professionals STS exam early in my career, which helped me obtain numerous site safety and health officer roles and led to tracking account metrics for safety observations using dashboards like Industry Safe and Lifeguard. Early on as a task manager, I saw the need to improve safety processes, and now as a project manager I weave that into the fabric of how I operate and how I ensure the teams I lead are working safely.
How has safety impacted your approach to client work?
Safety is number one. Always. On my projects, I’m constantly assessing ways we can do things more safely. My experiences as a professional and a project manager compel me to build in enough time to address the safety needs of my teams and my clients. I also carefully consider how I’ve incorporated safety planning into every project, and how I’ve communicated safety risks and procedures. I take a very firm approach toward safety, and it’s respected and appreciated by our clients.
Prioritizing safety starts with foresight and preparation. I think about what could go wrong and how to prevent those scenarios from happening in the first place. I make it a point to share the means I use to consider and calculate risks for the work that we’re doing, as well as the procedures we have in place to mitigate risk. I continually communicate with our clients regarding annual health and safety plan refreshes and reviews to make sure they’re aware of all the different requirements. And I’m always keeping an eye on what’s next, evaluating best practices and procedures to plan ahead for the next project.
Please share a project example that demonstrates your commitment to safety principles.
I understand the importance of standing up and stopping work, if necessary, when it’s not being done safely — a capability that resulted in safety recognition from two of our major clients. Coming across an unsafe work scenario, I immediately recognized the risk in proceeding. I stood my ground and escalated the situation up the management chain, while simultaneously identifying best practices and procedures that could be followed to complete the work safely. Our clients greatly appreciated this alternate approach, as it protected their interests and their people, and I can’t think of anything more important than that.
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