2017 Summit Speaker Spotlight: Thomas Cunningham

The Safety Summit prides itself on providing an intimate and informative two-day experience for its attendees. We believe that our attendees stand to learn the most when they can deeply explore esteemed speakers' insights.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to spend your afternoon on May 31st hearing from Behavioral Scientist, Thomas Cunningham (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). Thomas, whose research addresses intervention development and research translation for safety and health applications in construction, health care, and several small business sectors, says he caught the “behavioral safety bug” in college while at Virginia Tech.

“…I was intrigued by psychology for the big philosophical kinds of questions like ‘why do we do what we do?’ After a couple of those kinds of classes, I began to think about how I can actually use what I am learning to help people and make a living while doing it. Occupational safety and health seemed like the perfect way to apply behavioral science and make a meaningful contribution in my future career, so I started taking courses and doing projects with Dr. John Austin and Western Michigan University,” he says.

Much like some of our other Summit Speakers (ahem-ahem, Tim Ludwig), the world renown Dr. E. Scott Geller played a role in helping to shape and inspire Tom’s career path.

“From there, I knew I wanted a career in workplace safety and health, and I was lucky enough to go to Virginia Tech and work with Dr. E. Scott Geller. Needless to say, his passion is contagious.”

Tom’s Summit presentation focuses on how organizations can incorporate a “Total Worker Health” approach with their objective of becoming more sustainable and “green.” This focus on sustainability has become especially relevant for organizations in recent years, but Tom says he had an interest in bringing behavioral safety principles into sustainability because he says “workplace safety and health often seems to exist in its own silo, yet it is clearly part of the overall effort toward improving our well-being.”

He continues, “rather than reinventing the wheel and pursuing redundant efforts toward the same outcomes, it seems to me that workplace safety and health should be integrated with efforts to improve health and well-being, as well as create a culture of sustainability.”

Tom’s presentation promises to be informative and not without its surprising elements. When asked what might surprise attendees, Tom replied, “the knife-juggling demonstration.” While we regret to inform our audience that there will be no knife-juggling at this year’s Summit, Tom does believe that “attendees might be surprised by the lessons learned from conversations with small employers. Much of my own research has been focused on small businesses and helping them to address the challenges they face in creating a safe and healthy workplace. I think the insights gained from small employers provide all kinds of practical advice for safety professionals in organizations of any size and in any sector.”

“Meeting and connecting with people that are taking what they are learning and applying it in their own work” is one of Tom’s favorite things about presenting at conferences. He says he “especially likes speaking with small employers who are facing so many challenges in running their operation, yet demonstrate the value of a safe and healthy workplace.”

His advice to Summit attendees to help them get the most out of their experience stems from personal practices that he utilizes when attending conferences.

“Ask questions and share [your] personal experiences. I know I take away much more in the way of learning when I am engaged and actively communicating, rather than only listening and observing.”

We look forward to engaging with and actively listening to more of Tom’s insight on May 31st!

Timothy Ludwig