For The Independent
It has always been safety first for Todd Eastham whose company — McCulley, Eastham and Associates — is all about teaching safety.
“I was raised to believe that you should always help other people,” he said. “And I have always been interested in safety. I was looking at my memory book that my parents had when I was a child, and right there in my handwriting under ‘What you want to be when you grow up?’ was safety patrol.”
Eastham may have shared that desire with many of his childhood contemporaries, but few grew up to enter the field.
“I never knew there was any way that you could make a living at it,” he said. He confesses high school brought an interest in sports and other things, and the lack of obvious applications for his earlier desire caused it to fall by the wayside. When he entered the work force it was to serve his apprenticeship as a millwright.
“I was pro-production then, and at the time safety inspectors freaked everyone out. The Occupational Safety and Health Act didn’t come along until 1970, and most people still didn’t understand it. All of the safety books were huge,” Eastham said. “There are somewhere in excess of 22,000 laws and regulations.”
But in spite of the daunting amount of information, Eastham did learn — by necessity and frequency of exposure — during the course of his millwright apprenticeship.
Eastham remembers being in one safety class and the instructor, Danny Johnson of Union Boiler, singled him out.
“I thought that was it,” he said. “But he asked me to finish the presentation, and I did. I even answered a few questions afterwards. When the class left, he told me to stay.”
Eastham said he thought he was going to be fired, (mirroring most employees’ apprehension when being noticed by a safety inspector), but the exact opposite proved to be the case. Johnson was impressed Eastham had retained so much of the information covered in previous classes, and offered him a position.
The new position in the safety department came with a considerable jump in pay, but also with a large increase in responsibility. Johnson gave Eastham two extremely large safety manuals, one from OSHA and one from the company, and told him to read those before he performed any of his other duties.
Eastham read the manuals and went to work. Then another surprise piece of information came his way. He learned the company, in addition to having its own safety department, subcontracted an independent safety consultant.
Suddenly, Eastham’s early childhood desire became a potential, tangible reality. Six months later, Eastham was a safety consultant.
Although Eastham had seen the opportunity to fill a need and reasonable proof what he desired to do was viable, it was by no means easy. Banks, he says, thought he was crazy. No one in the area had ever tried to do anything like what he had in mind.
“The newness of the idea scared them, I think,” he said. There was also a problem securing insurance because many insurance companies were uncertain about just what his business entailed, and how the risks could be covered. Eastham managed to secure insurance coverage, but still it was by no means an easy road.
“We were ‘rolling change’ broke,” Eastham said. “We ate a lot of soup beans and cornbread in the beginning. But I think that it was those tough early times that gave us the intestinal fortitude that helps us even today. I still remember those times when I see beans and cornbread.”
Part of the early problem, Eastham said, was that it took the private sector a while to catch up with government regulations. But the company that began as basic safety and backup rescue work evolved into a business that was able to offer other companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere safety plans tailored specifically to their needs.
Eastham said his company also works with Rescue Pro in Ashland to provide services, and the two companies work well together.
Eastham’s company offers training such as selected company training based on need, high angle and special response, confined space rescue and high angle rope rescue.
“If OSHA requires a permit,” Eastham said. “Then you need to provide rescue.”
Eastham’s company also provides Atmospheric Monitoring (such as for hydrogen sulfide) to provide early warning and response for the oil and gas industry. It also performs general atmospheric monitoring and noise monitoring among other things.
Eastham’s company has grown to encompass many more aspects of safety, including the nation’s first inland Man Overboard and Cold Water Rescue training course. The company worked directly with Marathon Marine Emergency Response Team in developing the curriculum for the training. Eastham’s company runs ‘live’ drills to prepare employees for potential falls overboard and the many potential dangers rescuers face.
In 2011 Eastham’s wife, Angie, took over as CEO of the company, and Eastham says the move was the right choice. She has been part of the company since the beginning, and her knowledge and expertise is invaluable. It also freed up Eastham to do what he does best as chief operations officer, and spreads talents over the spectrum to help the company continue to grow and evolve. It also allows Eastham to dedicate more of his time to contributing to worthwhile causes in the community.
“If you help people and try to do the right thing, then everything eventually falls into place.”