Students in Service: Pirates teach safety to V Foundation workers

Floyd O’Connell, left, and Bahirah Siddiqi, right, Masters of Science in Occupational Safety students, stand with Melissa Levesque, with the V Foundation. The students did a service project in which they taught workplace safety to V Foundation employees. (Contributed photo)

Two College of Engineering and Technology graduate students recently completed a project on workplace safety with the V Foundation for Cancer Research in Cary.

Floyd O’Connell and Bahirah Siddiqi participated in the project through the East Carolina University chapter of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP).

The project began when Melissa Levesque, director of human resources at the V Foundation, approached the ECU ASSP on a way to help reduce the occupational risk for workers at the nonprofit organization.

O’Connell and Siddiqi worked on the project for about a year, helping develop strategies involving everything from fire safety and ergonomics to workplace violence and active shooter situations.

“As a safety professional with limited experience, volunteering at the V Foundation has been an amazing learning experience,” Siddiqi said. “Being able to discuss safety concerns with the human resources director and employees has pushed me out of my comfort zone. This opportunity has allowed me to develop my leadership skills.  Presenting in front of the director of a company can be intimidating but also rewarding.”

O’Connell echoed the words of Siddiqi, saying the two gained valuable experience, but he stressed that goal of the project was to make for a safer environment for V Foundation workers.

“Whether it’s starting an open discussion or putting together training, we want people to be prepared for any situation,” O’Connell said.

Levesque said the students played a vital role in improving safety for the workers.

“I was surprised at the amount of information that I was missing in my safety plan, and I have enjoyed working with the students,” Levesque said. “I feel the students have helped the V Foundation and me to prepare our workers and to update our policies, so our workers are safer at work.”

O’Connell and Siddiqi are seeking their Master of Science in Occupational Safety (MSOS) through CET’s Department of Technology Systems.

The ECU ASSP chapter is making service projects mandatory for future students.

“The ASSP student section leadership saw this as an opportunity to learn and help a small business,” said Dr. Michael Behm, professor in occupational safety. “The students made several visits to the V Foundation and created a fire and life safety plan, an active shooter plan, and conducted training on these in addition to ergonomics awareness and general office safety. The students performed competently, but more importantly they learned the value of trying to help a small business with little resources for safety and health. These types of service activities are at the heart of education ensuring more compassionate, empathetic young professionals enter the workforce.”

-By Ken Buday, University Communications