For Shohn Davison, college and early career lit a fire for safety advocacy

For Shohn Davison, college and early career lit a fire for safety advocacy


Shohn Davison is a well-traveled safety and environmental advocate. His career spans more than 20 years. We sat down with Shohn and took a deep dive into his life of S&E.

1 — How did you get interested in safety?
While attending college to get my bachelor’s degree in environmental science, I took classes in toxicology and public health, as well as environmental law. While studying these topics, I became aware of how important safety was in the workplace and how easy it is for poor safety practices to have a lifetime impact on the health of workers.

Looking at case history concerning the right to know involving chemical exposure opened my eyes to how important good workplace rules are. It only takes one incident to impact a person’s health for life. As a firefighter and a fire investigator, I was very aware of the potential for exposure to chemical and physical health hazards, as well as the need for good personal protective equipment. I have had several friends who experienced long-term health issues and death due to chemical exposures.

The firefighting industry has been making many changes to reduce health issues. These include annual physicals and situational awareness of the hazards in the workplace. I still make sure that I get annual physicals and am aware that, due to the work I did in the past, I am at high long-term risk for the potential for cancer. This was a risk that I was aware of going into public service in the fire service and was something that I was willing to risk to help others.

During my time in the fire service, I was a certified trainer and taught fire inspection classes. I always emphasized good safety practices when teaching the next generation of fire inspectors and hope that I made a difference in how they look at safety and their health. At the end of the day, we always emphasized that everyone goes home safe. It was very much part of the culture and we always watched out for each other.

2 — What is your background in safety?

I have spent the last 20 years of my life working for municipalities in different areas of public health. I am a registered sanitarian in the State of Texas and worked for five years as a health inspector, inspecting restaurants and daycare facilities for violations of the state health and safety code.

I then went to work for the City of Pearland as a deputy fire marshal and spent the next 10 years enforcing the international fire code and the international life safety code concerning commercial businesses. I conducted both on-site inspections of existing businesses and plan reviews for new construction. I am a master peace officer and was certified as a structural firefighter and an emergency medical technician. The fire marshal’s office handled criminal illegal dumping cases, as well as fire and arson investigations.

Currently, I am a division manager overseeing the operations of the inspection staff working for the Department of Neighborhoods of the City of Houston. In this position I directly manage the inspection staff and am involved in enforcing city ordinances that impact the health and safety of the citizens living in Houston.

The Department of Neighborhoods Inspections and Public Services Division conducts inspections concerning residential code enforcement and is directly responsible for the reduction of nuisances and blight within the city. Our department handles cases involving nuisances such as high grass and weeds, junk, and debris, and dangerous or abandoned residential structures. These cases have a direct impact on public health and quality of life within the city and have a tremendous impact on the community we serve.

3 — How do you observe safety issues at work? Is it general awareness, or do you have a checklist of things to watch for?

Because my staff is mostly field staff, I have created an inspection program that includes vehicle safety inspections and personal protective equipment inspections to reduce workplace injury. I have checklists that I use to conduct these inspections. I have also been installing warning flashers in the vehicles to reduce the incidents of vehicle accidents involving the inspection staff.

I have incorporated safety topics in our all-hands meetings within the department and am working to encourage a culture of safety within the Department of Neighborhoods staff. To reduce the incidents of injuries involving canine encounters, I am actively involved in training the inspection staff concerning the safe use of pepper spray and we have assigned pepper spray to our inspection staff.

The State of Texas allows code officers to carry pepper spray and we have added this to our personal protective equipment issued to the inspectors. I conduct the on-site inspections of the building AED devices monthly, and I walk the building daily as part of my normal routine. This allows me to look for issues that may be hazards within the workplace and make changes as necessary.

4 — You have a reputation for being proactive. How did you develop your sense of watchfulness?

I have been working as an inspector for so long that watching for hazards has become second nature for me. I cannot pass by a fire alarm panel without looking to see if the inspection is current or if the system is currently in trouble status. When I enter a restaurant, I look for the inspection on the wall and see what the conditions were on the last inspections. When staying at hotels, I look for the location of emergency exits. It’s just a part of who I am.

5 — Are you able to involve colleagues in your department and division?

I train and encourage the inspectors to use good safety practices when going out to inspect properties. This includes being aware of their surroundings and watching for hazards before entering a property. During training, we reiterate this repeatedly. I have inspectors who are designated field trainers, and they continue this training out in the field with new hires. We are trying very hard to reduce the number of accidents through training and providing appropriate personal protective equipment to help create a culture of safety and reduce injuries.

6 — Do you have a safety committee and what is your involvement in it?

Yes, I chair the committee and we meet every quarter. We review incidents and I involve them in coming up with ideas to help improve our safety program.

7 — Can you track your safety accomplishments and progress?

I have only been the safety person within the department for about eight months, so it is still early. I am looking forward to comparing this year with the next year and seeing if we have a reduction in incidents of injury moving forward. I am very hopeful.

8 — Are you able to employ the strategy behind the ZIP program to help your workplace safety?

Yes, we made the completion of the training program mandatory, and I believe that ZIP has provided a good template that I have been trying to build upon to create a culture of safety within the department.

9 — Can you list specific examples of improvements in workplace safety?

1. Vehicle safety inspection program.
2. Personal protective equipment inspection program.
3. Installation of lightbars in vehicles to reduce vehicle accidents.
4. Pepper spray training and issuance to reduce canine bite incidents.

10 — Are you optimistic that your and your colleagues’ efforts are working?

I am very optimistic that we are making a difference and am looking forward to seeing the reduction of injury as we continue to make improvements to make our safety program better.


Nichole Robinson