By Marg Stark
Twenty years ago, the U.S. territory of Guam had high rates of worker injuries, illnesses, and deaths, particularly in the construction industry. But thanks to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) education efforts, as well as enforcement, the number of incidents on the island has been dramatically reduced. “We have made a true and wonderful impact on the safety of our workplaces,” says Ann Marie Pelobello, a founder and administrator at the Guam Contractors Academy (GCA) where UC San Diego Extension offers OSHA courses.
Ten years ago, Pelobello and a group of contractors took an OSHA refresher course at UC San Diego Extension with instructors Van Howell and Robert Hernandez. “They provided such excellent training that we asked them to form a partnership with us and teach right here on the island,” Pelobello says. Howell, who spent 25 years working at OSHA, and Fernandez, who has more than 30 years of field and classroom experience, started teaching at the Barrigada, Guam academy in 2009.
Mellanie Pascual, Occupational Health and Safety Administrator for the 130-employee construction company Smithbridge Guam Inc., has taken several courses with Howell and Hernandez, starting with OSHA 501 last year. “It is awesome to learn from such experienced teachers, to hear from a former OSHA director, and to be exposed to the case studies they present,” Pasqual says. She has incorporated her learning into the training she does at Smithbridge and into private training classes she offers as a consultant.
There is a building boom on the military base in Guam right now. “But this is a small island, so it’s valuable to have this training to stay competitive,” Pascual says.
Having UC San Diego instructors fly in dramatically decreases the cost of the classes. “We deeply appreciate this, as do the employers who pay for their employees to attend the classes,” Pelobello says.
Pelobello enjoys seeing more and more students at CGA pursue careers in occupational safety, as Pascual is doing. Initially, attendees came because their employers wanted to comply with OSHA regulations. “It’s common for students to arrive with a false sense of security,” she says. Soon, however, they transform, “gaining a heightened understanding of the hazards that exist on the job site and an appreciation for how to safeguard workers.”
Pelobello worked in various capacities within the construction industry, including time as a laborer. “I have long understood the importance of the adage ‘see something, say something,’” she relates. Both in her personal
life and in her career, Pelobello says that observation and listening skills have served her well. “We can apply all that we learn in these classes to transforming our workplaces and our lives.”