In honor of Black History Month, an annual observance of Black and African Americans’ accomplishments through adversity, YellowBird is celebrating Black EHS Professionals from across the country. We chatted with Crystal D. Turner-Moffatt Ph.D. (can) MS CSP SMS ASP CHST, read on to learn more about “The Safety Diva.”
Mrs. Turner-Moffatt is a Professional Consultant in the field of Environmental Health and Safety. Her motto is “EH&S is my passion”. Her handle is “The Safety Diva ™”. Raised in Harlem, NY, Crystal has broken down barriers in the construction industry as a safety professional and business owner. Crystal is proud to be a woman of color in this male dominated industry. Crystal is CEO of the safety firm CDT EHS Consulting LLC, a hard-working consulting practice she established in 2007. CDT EHS Consulting LLC provides a “Bridge to Safety Success” for their clients. She is extremely knowledgeable and has extensive expertise in the fields of Environmental Health and Safety, Industrial Hygiene, Environmental Sciences, Construction Safety Management, Corporate Compliance, Toxicology, Bioterrorism Preparedness, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Research, and Development. She has had more than 20 years of experience in the health and safety field in multifaceted environments. Mrs. Turner-Moffatt is a Doctoral candidate at Capitol Technology University and studied in the Master of Science in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (EOHS) program at Hunter College CUNY. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Wesleyan University, and a Bioterrorism Preparedness Certificate from Hunter College CUNY.
How did you get your start in EHS?
Raised in Harlem, NY, I have broken down barriers in the construction industry as a safety professional and business owner. I am proud to be a woman of color in a male dominated industry. I am extremely knowledgeable and have extensive expertise in the fields of Environmental Health and Safety, Industrial Hygiene, Environmental Sciences, Construction Safety Management, Corporate Compliance, Toxicology, Bioterrorism Preparedness, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Research, and Development. I have had more than 20 years of experience in the health and safety field in multifaceted environments. I started in Toxicology looking at human exposure to environmental toxins, then transitioned to Industrial Hygiene looking at hazards and exposures in Industry, to finally finding my calling in the Safety Profession where I looked at workplace exposure and risk. I got into the construction field because I followed the level of risk. Construction is the industry where most workers experience fatalities, accidents, and incidents. With risk reduction in construction, this is where I felt I could make the greatest impact.
I am a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Safety Management Specialist (SMS), Associate Safety Professional (ASP), Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST), Senior Construction Safety Manager, Construction Site Fire Safety Manager (CSFSM) & Senior Loss Control Consultant with a 20+ year record of success overseeing all areas of safety on multimillion-dollar construction, infrastructure, environmental, health and safety projects for government, insurance, and private-sector clients.
The choice to be an entrepreneur has been challenging, but not difficult to make. I still struggle with being a 100% full time entrepreneur, although it has been 15 years since I started the company. I still work for others during lean times. I started CDT EHS Consulting LLC because I wanted to be my own boss, an entrepreneur and serve my clients. There was a lack of opportunities at my level. I embarked on the building of my MWBE certified safety firm, CDT EHS Consulting LLC to bring my skills, knowledge, and expertise, as well as the experience of those professionals of which I am affiliated with in the field, to those companies and institutions in need. Occupational Health and Safety is a “passion” and being a Safety Professional is a calling and purpose which I practice professionally and ethically. I have a mission and commitment to serving clients and their employees professionally and ethically. Throughout my work history I have maintained an excellent performance record and rapport with consultants, management, site safety personnel, and employees, including unions. I have earned a reputation for dedication, teamwork, and a trustworthy work ethic.
How can we encourage more diversity within the EH&S community?
Public outrage over the choking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., was a watershed event in an ongoing battle against police brutality. It also cast a bright light on the dark state of civil rights, renewing calls for racial diversity, equity, and inclusion not only in our daily lives but the workplace as well. With immense cultural change upon us, I strongly believe safety in the community and workplace go hand in glove.
No profession is immune from the scourge of bigotry, including environmental health and safety. While Black Lives Matter gained considerable traction following this tragedy, several other groups are struggling to be heard. Discrimination takes on many forms. Besides race, it extends to gender, age, sexual identity, religion, and the disabled. In recent years, we have borne witness to #MeToo and LGBTQ movements seeking an end to sexual harassment at work and equal employment rights for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
Fortunately, the U.S. workforce is becoming more diverse. Between 1980 and 2020, the number of minority workers doubled while the white working-age population declined to 63% from 83%. However, there’s still a very long way to go. Most entry level and executive positions are overwhelmingly white (64% and 85%, respectively), while the number of female leaders is just 8% for Asian or Pacific Islander women, 6% for Black women and 3% for Hispanic women. Moreover, women and minorities continue to earn less than their white-male colleagues. And as many as 45% of working Americans have experienced discrimination and/or harassment.
There’s equal cause for celebration and alarm in my own industry. While the number of female engineers has more than doubled since the 1980s, women make up only 13% of engineers and earn 10% less than their male counterparts. As a business owner, I’m among roughly 10% of females in the construction field, but there are also racial hurdles in my way. Word-of-mouth advertising, building personal relationships and earning trust have helped grow my business without having to rely on a Minority Business Enterprise certification, which my white female mentors mistakenly thought would help me gain a leg up.
For others in this category who aren’t as lucky, they can at least benefit from networking with EH&S professionals of the same background. Under the auspices of the American Society of Safety Professionals, for example, there are several groups that represent minorities. They include Women in Safety Excellence, Blacks in Safety Excellence (for which I served as administrator) and the Hispanic Safety Professionals. A colleague of mine is also trying to do the same for LGBTQ safety professionals. Beyond the support these splinter groups provide, more partnerships are needed between recruiting firms and human resources departments to help make the EHS field more diverse, as well as foster greater inclusion. There’s also a need for workshops and webinars to help minorities write resumes and learn job-interview skills.
One hopeful development is that diversity, equity, and inclusion are becoming an expectation among younger employees who are more understanding and empathetic. I call them the “Free to Be You and Me” generation, and they’re more welcoming of interactions with people from different backgrounds. I’m heartened by their open-mindedness. Millennial and GenZ generations are considered the most diverse in U.S. history. For example, just 56% of 87 million Millennials are white vs. 72% of 76 million Baby Boomers. But I can see where they also run into their own obstacles at work. Young people may lose out on certain job opportunities, for instance, because they don’t have enough experience, but how can they ever advance without at least having a chance? Of course, there’s also ageism on the other end of the spectrum – with organizations not wanting to pay for an experienced EHS professional who is used to commanding a certain fee or salary.
EHS leaders who recognize the value and energy that young people bring to the profession will have a competitive advantage in the talent war and easier time growing their business. This same thinking applies to employing more diverse talent pools whose thoughts, approaches, skill sets, and creativity are thoroughly different from one another. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which extends to equal pay for the same work, build a culture that allows individuals and EH&S teams to feel comfortable and contribute more freely. These steps can only help increase return on investment. Organizations that are more diverse outperform their more homogeneous counterparts by 25%.
Until we’re truly able to level the EHS playing field, I can only hope that forward-thinking organizations, ultimately, will learn that teaching their employees to accept different paths to the same destination is a winning strategy for everyone.
Who is your most influential mentor?
The chief goal of any EH&S mentoring program is to at least help individuals learn the ropes in specific skill sets – much like an apprenticeship in construction. But there are also strategic objectives in the form of elevating professional exposure, teaching leadership, and even enhancing life skills. A professional relationship that is built on trust can have a lasting impact and can turn into a long-term friendship if you are lucky.
I have sought out mentorship from organizations such as ASSP’s Women in Safety Excellence and ASSP’s Blacks in Safety Excellence. I have been mentored and have mentored in these organizations. Boosting confidence is a critically important outcome in any mentoring arrangement. This is especially true when it comes to women who may be more reluctant than men to apply for certain jobs unless they meet all the criteria. Professional networking is a wonderful conduit for this to occur. Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) and Blacks in Safety Excellence (BISE) have done an incredible job under the auspices of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), which has long sponsored mentor programs.
Women entrepreneurs who I have emulated and who have hired me on my way up to ownership of my firm, have also served as mentors and sponsors.
I love to research, teach, and give back to the community, inspiring young people, and especially women of color, to enter the STEM fields. EH&S is not exactly an employment opportunity that students learn about in school, and it is hard for young people to imagine themselves working as a safety manager or supervisor when they do not see them in the typical STEM careers. The first real step along this career path, obviously, would be to enroll in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses along the way to benefit from someone’s experience. Once the die is cast, mentoring is a tremendous launching pad for newcomers to build confidence, model themselves after an accomplished professional who inspires them, receive guidance on how they should structure their resume, earn valuable certifications, and build a highly rewarding career. Find a sponsor. My most influential sponsor is Deidre Helberg, founder, and owner of Helberg Electrical Supply LLC the first and only African American woman owned electrical supply company in Long Island, NY, and founder of the U.S. Coalition of Black Women Businesses USCBWB in which I am a founding Board Member responsible for Communications Outreach.
When you first begin your career, it is important to enlist a few great mentors. As your career advances toward mid-level opportunities and beyond, you should enlist a diverse slate of mentors, and seek out an elite category of advocate: a sponsor.
A mentor advises the mentee; sponsors advocate for their protégés. A mentor can be anyone in a position of experience, while a sponsor is a senior-level executive. Sponsors drive their protégé’s career vision. In short, mentors advise you and sponsors advocate for you.
Mentors are great, but sponsors are key to your career advancement. Mentors provide behind the scenes advice and support. They help you to learn. Sponsors are on the front lines and will tell others that you are the person for the job. My support system has always been my parents, husband, family, colleagues, and friends.
I’m deeply indebted to Tom Davey, who took me under his wing when I transitioned from the pharmaceutical to the construction field. Tom was always very approachable and would never micromanage. He let me learn on my own and fall flat, then get back up. After imploring me to closely follow my health and safety plan as a construction safety manager, he noticed and complimented how I evolved from safety cop to den mother.
I would like to thank the many “Safety Gurus” in my life past and present especially the humble Reagan Tiff-Branch MPh CSP CIH and the list goes on, (she is the real deal) for being an inspiration as a businesswomen, true mentor, and friend.
My mentors have remained people who I can tap into as resources, and together we have pushed each other along in the field. By the same token, my mentees also have taught me well over the years. I consider EH&S a higher calling – almost like a ministry on the job. It feels good to help other people resolve problems, enhance their career, and see them succeed. But there’s so much more to mentoring than that. Safety managers on construction sites my specialty, have the worker’s lives in our hands, so we must be sharp, utilizing keen instincts, and ensure that everyone is returned to their family unhurt.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today. This month means that we get to pay homage to and recognize the trailblazers in U.S. history who paved the way for all of us, especially Black People and BIPOC (People of Color and of African Descent in the Diaspora). Black history, to me, is a time when African Americans take the time out to see what the people before us fought for. Black History Month means a very limited, but necessary, acknowledgment of the rich history of Black Americans. I found out recently, that in June 2019, I was the first African American woman to be awarded the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Women in Safety Excellence (WISE) Safety Professional of the Year (SPY) Award. That means so much to me, because I know I got to open a door for others and create a new pathway for future African American Women EHS Professionals. The 2022 Black History Month theme of Black Health and Wellness is another opportunity to engage in a healthy dialogue regarding health equity, the social determinants of health, and systemic racism. I have always been concerned with health disparities in the Black Community. I became a Safety Professional to make THE difference.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to reach this point in your career?
It’s not easy being female in a male-dominated profession defined by manual labor, heavy equipment, and untidy construction sites. There are systemic obstacles in the way and misperceptions to overcome in the environmental health and safety field. I was not asked to attend an important C-Suite meeting I had prepared for as part of the construction safety team, in an insurance company I worked for, because I cut my hair and went “natural”. As an African American woman in a largely white-male-dominated industry, I have seen these obstacles firsthand – and overcame them with a mix of tenacity, personality, and passion for safety. It’s also in my DNA. I hail from a long line of entrepreneurs. My parents and grandparents, for example, all had their own businesses. To me, EHS is a higher calling. But I’ve been on construction sites where people just didn’t want to work with me or share a trailer because of my gender or color. I have also been on the receiving end of uncomfortable comments someone made about both my sexuality and age. The fact is, there’s a scarcity of equal opportunity for women in construction, who are usually relegated to flaggers and rarely seen in apprentice roles. Somehow, I managed to swim against the tide.
My personal journey prepared me for these uncomfortable occasions. After attending elementary school in Harlem, I was bussed to white schools and attended Wesleyan University on a merit scholarship. But I’ve always had to work harder to build credibility and prove myself, especially in a field that’s not considered feminine, much like in the film Hidden Figures about African American women at NASA. There were times when my resume had to be worn on my sleeve just to overcome institutional racism and sexism. Therefore, this is why, there are so many initials after my name, which shows the scope of my education and professional certifications.
But what’s important to realize is that as a woman I bring unique qualities to EH&S that improve safety culture and significantly increase profitability. Because women are nurturing and highly intuitive regarding spotting danger, they help keep employees out of harm’s way. It’s a natural inclination, and most Americans believe women are better at creating safe and respectful workplaces than men.
How did you come up with the title “The Safety Diva” and what does that title mean to you?
I have established myself as an expert with 25 plus years in the Safety Profession. With my style of safety, I have branded myself the “Safety Diva ™” to stand out in the male dominated male construction and safety field. As Safety Diva ™ I am all things Divine about Safety. I have a unique approach as a problem solver for my clients, not just as a safety “policeman” who points out deficiencies. I am professional and ethical. I have been hired for difficult over-site jobs that require constant reporting to regulatory agencies, because we cannot be compromised to “look the other way” with regards to unsafe acts in the workplace.
I love being with people. EH&S has exposed me to many great people from individual trade workers to CEOs. For me, safety has been a professional and spiritual calling for 25 years. When I sense danger, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. While on construction sites, I am always doing a visual assessment to spot someone without their hardhat, safety glasses or hearing protection. A mentor of mine used to drum into my head the importance of using a health and safety plan as an EH&S bible – Sage advice that I took to heart.
When I started managing contractors, I became like a den mother and gained their trust between my deep concern for their wellbeing and use of humor. With so many men in hard hats on the job site and plenty of testosterone flowing, I would always kid around about being their safety wife or safety girlfriend, and learned to be thick-skinned about all the teasing, cursing and inappropriate comments. In the #MeToo era, there is a fine line between joking and offending.
Still, there is an interesting synergy between men and women that’s different than when people from the same gender work together, particularly in construction. Women lead from a different perspective, which I think can create a more relaxed, creative, and collaborative environment with family-oriented team building. While men tend to be more analytical, women are more verbal. But you also want the workforce to feel comfortable sharing their problems and frustrations. In the end, we all know that good communication and trust drives success.
Women in EH&S constantly need more education and a comprehensive skill set to be credible and prove their worth. I have four sets of letters of certification after my name, because of this very reason. Women also need to learn the vernacular of general contractors, carpenters, and masons, as well as electricians and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning professionals. In addition, it is critical to have field skills. There is no way you can do safety from a trailer or office. You must get out, boots to the ground, and interact with workers. That is why I love EH&S. I get to interact with people as a work family and use every bit of knowledge from every area of my life and what I have learned throughout my life in totality to be a Safety Professional.
Overall, I continue to be me “Safety Diva ™ “and do not give in to facades of conformity. I say be you, be seen, contribute and continue to educate yourself and others in diversity, equity, and inclusion matters.
As Maya Angelou said, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” She also said, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
- Turner-Moffatt, Crystal D. THE POWER OF MENTORSHIP Strengthening Women in Leadership Roles assp.org AUGUST 2019 PROFESSIONAL SAFETY PSJ https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/bp_turner_0819.pdf