During a recent interview with Sandra Dodge, Regional Safety Manager at Helix Electric, her passion and enthusiasm for worksite safety came through loud and clear. In a safety career spanning almost 24 years, Sandra has worked in a broad range of construction environments and experienced firsthand the vital importance of focusing on safety and hazard prevention in an industry whose workers face serious risk of injury or worse every day on the job.
Sandra first became interested in occupational safety and health while serving on a safety committee as a metro bus driver in Port Angeles, Washington. As she says so enthusiastically, she “fell in love with safety” and began enrolling in as many safety classes as she could find, including forklift train the trainer. When she discovered there was not much work in the safety field in her small hometown, she began searching for other workplace safety opportunities.
Sandra took her safety career to the next level when she joined the power plant industry, where she worked for 4 years as a contractor for Irwin Industries, a leading industrial construction and maintenance service provider. As a safety coordinator, Sandra travelled around the US to help ensure safe work practices were followed during power plant shutdowns, maintenance and restarts, working 12-hour days 7 days per week in a variety of power plant environments, including the Wyoming-based Jim Bridger Power Plant, a subsidiary of the largest grid operator in the western US.
From power plants Sandra moved on to the oil and gas industry, overseeing and enforcing safe work practices under very dangerous circumstances as refinery units were shut down, repaired and restarted. She then moved on to the solar industry, contracting with First Solar, a major provider of utility-scale PV power plants, and expanded her role to supervising other safety representatives on the jobsites of large-scale solar projects, including a 550-megawatt solar field encompassing over 5000 acres in Dateland, Arizona.
In 2014 Sandra joined Helix Electric, one of the largest US electrical contractors specializing in design-build and highly complex electrical projects. She started as a Site Safety Manager in Omaha, Nebraska, and subsequently moved up to Area Safety Manager and then Regional Safety Manager, based in Sacramento, California. She spends much of her time in the field, inspecting jobsite operations, monitoring key work areas such as confined spaces and cranes, reviewing safety documentation and plans for upcoming work, and conducting corporate safety audits. Sandra credits Helix for placing a high priority on safety, offering extensive in-house training to ensure that workers are fully prepared to conduct their work assignments safely.
Sandra has been a lifelong learner and continues to pursue safety training opportunities. In 2019 she earned her Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) certification after a rigorous exam. In 2021 Sandra earned her Certified Safety & Health Official (CHSO) – Level III certificate after completing 10 OSHA courses at the OSHA Training Institute Education Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District. Sandra strongly believes in continuing safety education for career advancement but more importantly to stay current on the latest standards and gain more tools and ideas to keep workers safe.
Sandra feels very comfortable as a woman working in the male-dominated construction industry. She attributes her effectiveness as a safety professional to building trust with workers and management over the years. While she believes there are excellent prospects for women to join the construction field, she feels there are opportunities for anyone who is willing to work hard in a challenging industry.
Sandra emphasizes the importance of management buy-in and support to make safety programs successful and effective. She is very happy working at Helix because of their strong commitment to employee safety and health. As she points out, a strong safety culture is built from the top down with management that is willing to balance the needs of production with the importance of worker safety.