NASA’s QEP (STEP Program) Ensures Safe Practices In All NASA Activites

Mark George, CSP, P.E. Ensures Safety of Operations Through STEP Program

June 29, 2020

NASA's QEP (STEP Program) Ensures Safe Practices In All NASA ActivitesSafety as an idea is something to which everyone can relate. We are all taught as children to look both ways before crossing the street. Safety is innate, as we are born capable of understanding that some things are dangerous, but just like the various complexities of doing what is right versus what is wrong, as we grow we must learn how to protect ourselves from the various dangers we face every day.

This is why safety as a profession is so important.  We know it is painful to fall, but we are not born with knowledge of various fall protections. We all eventually learn that water can create slick surfaces, but it takes advanced knowledge to understand the static coefficients of friction for different working surfaces and how to properly implement safety measures in such scenarios. Workplace safety is a skill and it is the safety practitioner who continuously develops that skill and shares it with others.

No place is this truer than at NASA. The dangers of space travel are something everyone can wrap their heads around. What people may not know is that in 1963 as part of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, the NASA Safety Center (NSC) was created. The NSC provides safety and mission assurance expertise, information, verification, and analysis to enable collaboration and learning, while promoting a safe workplace and successful programs and projects. The NSC serves as a resource for all NASA centers and facilities, providing a central index of Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) knowledge, expertise, and education. The NSC serves to improve all aspects needed for the safe and successful achievement of NASA’s goals.

Mark George, CSP, P.E. serves as the Operational Safety Technical Discipline Team Lead for the NSC. He also serves as one of the Program Coordinators for the NASA Safety and Mission Assurance Technical Excellence Program (STEP)—a BCSP Qualified Equivalent Program (QEP). Among other things, George develops and maintains the Operational Safety Curriculum for STEP, serves as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for operational safety issues, and supports various agency working groups like construction and fall protection, electrical safety, etc.

“At NASA you are always involved with the latest technology and developments in science,” says George. “SH&E work keeps you in touch with every other organization—facilities, research & development, aeronautics, technology. [At STEP] you’ll always be learning, and it is rewarding when all these groups come to you for advice.”

STEP serves as NASA’s university for safety and mission assurance. Graduates qualify for the Transitional Safety Practitioner (TSP) designation from BCSP—a designation that puts graduates on the path to becoming a Certified Safety Professional (CSP). STEP is a career-oriented learning program designed for SMA civil servants and contractors that offers training in NSC’s six technical disciplines. As the Program Coordinator, George is the conduit of information between BCSP and his students.

BCSP has several connections with NASA, including BCSP’s Exams Director David West, CSP, ASP P.E., CHMM; who serves on NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. West describes his safety career as the most rewarding career imaginable and being appointed to NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel was a dream come true for him. “It literally gave me the ability to reach for the stars,” said West.

“Professional certification is a measure of credibility,” George says. “I think all students and learners feel that certifications are important for a lot of reasons. The TSP gives them another path to obtaining those higher certifications.”

George credits the implementation of the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard by OSHA and his background as a chemical engineer as his reasons for developing a passion for safety. “My background made me an ideal fit for safety and safety requirements, as I could help evaluate both the technical and safety side of work being done,” he explains.

Working in both the technical and safety side is something George stresses to young people thinking about a career in safety. “I would tell [recent SH&E graduates] to get as much technical background as possible before jumping into safety as a full-time occupation,” he says. “It is very difficult to facilitate safety discussions with non-safety organizations or groups unless you can relate to the technical matters at hand.”

That ability to relate is important since ensuring projects safety relies on teams’ sharing safe practices. Everyone learns from one another, and the collaboration can lead to some truly amazing accomplishments. Never stop reaching for the stars.