Seismic events in world history can shape not only the course of nations but also the lives of individuals. That was the case for Dr. Ben Andrew.
As a talented snare drummer early in his senior year at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, Andrew was weighing music scholarships for college. Military service was not on his radar. A career in safety was not even a figment of his imagination.
But the events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, caused him to change his direction. Feeling compelled by a sense of duty, Andrew chose to forego college and instead enlisted in the United States Navy.
“It was an opportunity to step up and truly do something to serve,” Andrew said. “I felt like I had to be a part of whatever we do as a nation to stop this type of tragedy from occurring again.”
Within two months of his high school graduation, Andrew was at boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, beginning a nine-year Naval career that would take him around the world, open his eyes to the importance of safety, and ultimately inform his future civilian life.
Andrew, a BCSP Ambassador who has achieved the Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Safety Trained Supervisor (STS), and Certified Instructional Trainer (CIT) credentials, has risen to Vice President of Occupational Health & Safety for supply chain solutions provider NFI. His entire safety journey, though, took root during his Naval service.
The hazards of ship life made a quick impression on him, specifically dealing with the heat stress of sailing in some of the hottest parts of the world for months at a time. His first assignment was aboard the freshly commissioned USS Ronald Reagan. While it was based in Norfolk, Virginia, and then San Diego, the aircraft carrier was notably deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006.
“The passion for safety was born out there on the water,” Andrew said. “It could get up to 120 (degrees) outside in the middle of the Arabian Gulf. If we lose ventilation, if we lose anything in those types of conditions, of course the ship is going to be hotter.”
Accompanying the heat stress were slip, trip, and fall hazards resulting from humidity-created condensation on the ship’s painted, metal floors. Even though it wasn’t his specific job, Andrew took it upon himself to make sure there was proper tread and signage where it was needed.
His primary role on the ship was preparing food for the 5,000 sailors aboard. He chose it largely because of his affinity for good cuisine, born out of the New Orleans food culture. But he quickly came to understand the responsibility associated with his new position.
“It’s truly a science,” Andrew said. “There are a lot of health implications. You can truly hurt someone with foodborne illness, so it’s important to know proper temperatures, proper food handling, to learn about cross-contamination, and so on.”
As he made rank, Andrew’s level of responsibility increased and he took on a more formal leadership role. Later he managed the behavioral health and medical departments at the Navy’s Transient Personnel Unit in San Diego. There he counseled war veterans, monitored them, and collaborated with psychologists to determine their fitness for continued duty.
In 2011, after his wife Ceirra gave birth to the second of their four children, Andrew decided it was time to discharge from the Navy, and he pondered his next steps professionally.
A man of varied interests and skills, Andrew had experience in cooking and behavioral health from the Navy. Already armed with a master’s degree in theology, he would later found and serve as a volunteer pastor for Encouragement Church in Murietta, California. He would also go on to earn an MBA and a doctorate in education, eventually becoming an adjunct professor of organizational leadership at the University of Saint Katherine.
But as far as a full-time occupation, he kept coming back to the passion for safety that he developed in the Navy. So he interviewed and landed a job as an industrial safety engineer with NASA’s Michaud Assembly Facility back in his hometown of New Orleans. He was involved with safety efforts for the facility’s confined spaces, monitored the hydrogen sulfide gas on site, analyzed job hazards, and more. His safety career was officially launched.
From there, Andrew’s path has taken him to a safety supervisor position at the shipyard of BAE Systems in San Diego, a role as safety analyst with the County of Riverside, California, and to New Jersey-based NFI, where he rose to his vice president position in three years. He now oversees the health and safety of NFI’s 19,000 employees in an industry – warehousing and transportation – that consistently rates as one of the most dangerous in terms of nonfatal injury and illness rates involving days away from work.
“Because of the exposure to forklifts and different machinery,” Andrew said. “We have human beings, pedestrians, exposed to this heavy machinery. So every day it’s a task to make sure people get home safe, but we’ve been doing good work.”
It can feel like a lot of responsibility, but the sum of his life experiences has prepared him for it. In the Navy, he traveled the world from Brazil and Peru to Dubai and Bahrain to Singapore and Malaysia; he found value in partnering with people of different backgrounds for a unified purpose; and he developed a passion for keeping people safe.
A dozen years since his discharge, that desire remains the same.
“There’s nothing that I haven’t seen,” Andrew said. “I’ve seen increases of accidents and injuries. I’ve seen fatalities. I think that through those experiences, even with the Navy, I’ve been prepared for it all, so nothing truly surprises me. It helps me to bear that burden knowing that I’m prepared.”
Benefits and assistance are available for military members and veterans pursuing BCSP certifications.