This month’s ZIP Safety Spotlight shines on HR Safety Advisor Lester Woodfork Jr.
Although Woodfork majored in criminal justice in college and followed that up with a master’s degree in sociology, safety was always intertwined with his focus in school, at work and in the community. After he graduated from Prairie View A&M University, he started working in the criminal justice field, specifically in trying to promote public safety by preventing youths from turning to crime.
Woodfork’s career eventually took some turns through the years, which landed him squarely in the field of safety — first with Harris County and then with the City of Houston. Woodfork explained how he wound up working to make COH a safer workplace in this Q&A conversation.
Q: Give us some background about yourself.
A: I am a native Houstonian, who attended High School at Phillis Wheatley Sr. High. I am a 1988 graduate of Prairie View A&M University, with a BS in criminal justice and an MA in sociology, 1989. After graduating with my BS, I immediately enrolled in graduate school, while working in the financial aid office, as a financial aid counselor until 1991. My first job after graduate school was with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division as a parole officer. After 15 years, I decided to try the preventive angle of the criminal justice system and work with a non-profit organization in Houston, Project Grad Houston, to try and help my Wheatley High School community by way of working in the schools to try and stir the younger generation in a direction opposite of the criminal justice system. Due to funding challenges, the Project Grad program was dismantled. At that time, I had been working part time at FedEx Express for seven years and was part of the SCIT Team — Safety Continuous Improvement Team. So I applied for a safety inspector position with Harris County Facility and Property Management Department, FPM. This is where I was initiated into the world of safety. As my career continued to grow, I became the manager of Asset and Risk Management, where I oversaw the safety team, Fleet Management, and also served as FPM’s liaison to the county’s Human Resource and Risk Management Department. After seven years with Harris County, I moved on to the City of Houston, where I started as a safety rep in PWE’s Safety Section. After 11 months, I moved over to HR Safety.
Q: How long have you been with the City of Houston?
A: I’ve been with the City of Houston for seven years and eight months.
Q: What made you choose to work in the COH Safety division?
A: While employed as a parole officer, I was the office safety rep. We mainly concentrated on personal safety in the field, due to the type of clientele we were responsible for supervising. I felt it was very important that we had an office protocol in place to ensure the safety of the officers in the field. So that was my first taste of safety work. Also, while at FedEx, our team played a major role in the day-to-day inspections of the equipment being used and the employee’s proper use of PPE. Due to the nature of the work we performed daily, with the risk of injury while handling various size packages and the containers that the packages arrived in, safety was always first.
Q: What is the most interesting or exciting aspect of working in safety?
A: I’ve always tried to preach safety every day, all day. Safety is not only important at work, but it’s important in our everyday lives. With a good safety culture at work, it will carry over into your everyday life.
Q: Why is safety important to you, and why should it be important to COH employees?
A: There are many reasons why I feel that safety is important, but at the top of that list is that it will allow you to go back home just as you were when you left. If COH employees developed that culture, the City of Houston will be headed in the right direction.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Family is everything to me. As the youngest of five, I’m at my best of times when the whole gang is together. So with family, my patio and a nice cigar, I’m in my perfect world.
Q: What key message do you want COH employees to understand about the importance of safety?
A: Employees hear us say it all the time, and even the Mayor has added it to his repertoire: We as safety professionals would like to see every single employee make it back home to their loved ones just as they were when they left.