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Andrew O’Brien: Building a Culture of Safety & Health at Covia

Andrew O’Brien – Vice President of Safety & Health – looks back on his experience working at Covia and how it shaped his personal and professional life.

Andrew O’Brien: Building a Culture of Safety & Health at Covia

Andrew O’Brien – Vice President of Safety & Health – looks back on his experience working at Covia and how it shaped his personal and professional life.

Published 10-06-23

Submitted by Covia

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Andy O'Brian

The support, encouragement, and latitude that I’ve experienced at Covia over the past 33 years has empowered me to achieve more in my career than I thought possible. From helping to build a team focused on the importance of safety and health to developing innovative solutions that go beyond the mining industry – the experiences I’ve garnered at Covia have helped shape both my personal and professional life.

The Power of a Good Mentor

I earned my undergraduate degree in Safety Engineering from a university in Ontario, Canada. A part of that program involved a co-op position with a local construction company. Upon graduating, I was offered a full-time position to continue working with that organization – providing safety consulting services.

After about 6-months into this role, a friend of mine connected me with a safety and health opportunity at a mine in Ontario. While I felt that I needed additional experience to fill the role, I interviewed anyway – hoping to learn from the experience. To my surprise, I was offered the position, and I’ve been happily working at Covia ever since.

My first role at Covia was a Safety Specialist at the Nepheline Syenite Operations. I handled the safety, health, and environmental affairs at the mine. One year into this position, Covia hired their first industrial hygienist who, soon after joining the team, became my mentor. Under his guidance, I earned a promotion to Regional Safety and Health Supervisor and, only a year later, was offered the position of Safety & Health Manager at the Corporate Safety and Health office.

Our team of three safety and health employees was small but efficient. For 13 years, we managed Covia North America, Covia Australia, and Covia Norway – traveling back and forth between the countries to support Covia’s international safety and health initiatives.

By the time my mentor was set to retire, I realized that this was a great opportunity to achieve my career aspirations of becoming a senior leader. I used this opportunity to encourage the executive team to elevate the focus and importance of safety and health and hire their first Vice President of Safety and Health. They loved the idea and encouraged me to pursue higher education to become the right candidate for the job. By 2012, I had earned my Master of Science degree in industrial hygiene and shortly thereafter was offered the position – giving me the chance to expand our safety and health programs across the globe, building a culture that sets safety as an even higher priority.

I am truly grateful for the guidance and support of my mentor. I don’t know if I would have become the leader I am today without his help.

Andy O'Brien in a race suit, leaning on a car.

Building a Culture of Safety & Health

I’m incredibly proud of Covia’s safety and health culture and commitment to Safety First. Covia’s willingness to afford a degree of latitude in my role has allowed us to take numerous steps to ensure that safety and health remains a daily and consistent focus for our Team Members, contractors, vendors, suppliers, and customers. There is an expectation that Team Members speak up regarding safety risks – making sure their voices are heard.

This desire to constantly improve our safety standards is what led to one of my proudest professional accomplishments, the creation of the clothes cleaning booth. Early in my career, we began using direct reading aerosol monitors to detect dust concentrations. It’s critical to the safety and health of our frontline Team Members to monitor dust levels – ensuring levels meet or exceed Covia’s strict standards.

Through careful analysis of this data, we were able to figure out where Team Members were when those peaks occurred, allowing us to focus more narrowly on fixing the parts of the process that caused this increase in exposure. It was through review and study of this data we discovered that it was the clothes that were causing elevated overexposures. We decided that we needed to find a new way to clean clothes efficiently and effectively.

Our team went through years of testing to find out what was the best cleaning process to fix this issue. Our research led us to a solution that not only greatly improved the safety and health of Covia Team Members, but across a wide array of industries – from coffee grinding facilities to discussions with NASA for the removal of moon dust after space walks.

This project, along with the development of the Helmet-CAM technology and the dust control handbook, are significant efforts I am still incredibly proud of today. These projects have improved working conditions and will continue to keep people safe and healthy for decades to come.

Andy O'Brien and another person with arms around each other in front of an arena "Pantherland".

Life in the Fastlane

Family is very important to me. The biggest accomplishments of my life are my children, Mackenzie and Maddie. In my free time I love to be outdoors. One of my favorite hobbies is astrophotography – taking photos of things you can’t see with the naked eye. I love being able to share those photos and memories with my family and friends.

Outside of family, work and astrophotography, I enjoy racing in the Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series run by the SCCA. In my class, we race older Mazda Miatas which aren’t powerful, but can corner at high speeds. I love the competitive spirit and the bantering that comes with the competition. The men (and women) I race against are ultra-competitive, always eyeing first place. My favorite part of the hobby is the technical aspect – making small setup changes to allow me to push the car to its limit.

It may seem a bit ironic that a safety professional would be participating in an activity as potentially hazardous as auto racing, but we do take driver safety very seriously, and hey, at least I don’t do anything crazy like jump out of perfectly mechanically sound airplanes!

The Foundation Toward a Safer Tomorrow

I’ve seen Covia grow considerably over my 33-year career. I can confidently say that there has never been a better time to be at Covia than right now. The current leadership’s emphasis and support for safety and health are at an all-time high with signs of continued momentum and support.

With new initiatives coming down the line, like our Safety Starts with Me program update, reincorporation of frontline workers into the design and management of our safety and health program and cross-plant inspections, we are closer than ever to greatly reducing and eliminating injuries and illnesses at our plants. Thanks to the support from the Covia executive leadership team, I feel empowered about the real impact the Safety and Health Team is making that goes beyond the mining industry. Who would have thought it would be this exciting to come into work every day!

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A photo from Andy’s astrophotography collection.


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At Covia, we are committed to being more than just a leading provider of high-performance mineral and material solutions – we believe that our company can make a positive difference in the world. This belief is what drives our environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, which is influenced by both our journey as an organization and the events in the world around us.

Our commitment to operating as a responsible corporate citizen has been embedded into every aspect of our business for decades and serves as the foundation for Covia’s ESG initiatives. From our operations to our Team Members and the communities in which we live and work, we continue to define WHAT WE’RE MADE OF as more than the materials we produce, but the impact we can make in every interaction.

In 2021, we enhanced our approach toward accelerating ESG performance by developing our formal GOALS THAT INSPIRE: ESG 2030. These 10 goals, broken into our three core areas - Environmental Stewardship, Positive Social Impact and Responsible Governance & Ethics - were developed by Covia Team members across the company and are designed to drive tangible and measurable progress in areas where we can make the most impact.

We have the commitment and strategy in place to drive meaningful progress and we are pledging to make a positive differences for our people, our planet and our communities.

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