Tracie Gibbs Brings New Perspective to Forestry Safety | Rayonier Stories

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Tracie Gibbs Brings New Perspective to Forestry Safety

Rayonier’s Director of Safety shares how she developed her passion for safety and the unconventional approach she takes to moving safety forward not just for Rayonier, but for our entire industry.

When Tracie Gibbs was five years old, her dad introduced her to the thrill of professional racing and gave her the first glimpse of the direction her life would take. As she watched the action on the track, she was captivated by the National Hot Rod Association’s Safety Safari team, who wore bright yellow hi-vis suits and ran to help anyone in need. This was the job she wanted to do.

Today, as Rayonier’s Director of Safety, instead of racing hazards, Tracie’s attention and efforts are focused on the hazards that come with working in the woods.

At its core, safety is about people. Fortunately, Tracie is passionate about forging relationships. When she first stepped into safety, she encouraged open and honest communication both internally within Rayonier and externally with contractors. Safety quickly became a company-wide focus. In fact, it is now one of the company’s core values.

Tracie posing with her dad and her daughter in collage
Watching professional racing with her father, shown with Tracie on the left, is what first inspired Tracie to work in safety. She continues to enjoy racing events with her daughter Allie, shown with Tracie on the right.

What started as a team of one has expanded to a safety department with five employees reporting to Tracie. In six years, she has taken Rayonier’s safety program from one that had only a few measurable goals to one that is applying for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) — the highest safety certification available.

Under her leadership, Rayonier has launched a myriad of new reporting and training tools, including a safety app that can be used in the woods without access to cell service. In 2022, the company hosted safety training events in 8 states, helping the logging companies Rayonier works with to begin developing safety programs of their own and educating more than 650 contractors on OSHA’s safety standards. You can learn more and watch a video about the logger safety training events here

Not like other safety professionals

No one goes into safety because it’s glamorous or an easy way to punch a timeclock, especially when it comes to the timber industry, which consistently ranks in the top three of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. Safety professionals are often thought of like police, but Tracie is not like other safety professionals. She doesn’t want to police her coworkers and contractors, she wants to help them think differently about safety. Her philosophy is that, if they understand why certain policies and procedures are in place, they will be more likely to adopt safer behaviors.

Loggers and foresters report some of the highest job satisfaction rates of any profession, but missteps in safety can quickly become a matter of life and death.

“I have three rocks on my desk from the first fatality I investigated. I wanted something to remind me of how I was feeling in that moment because it was the exact situation I wanted to help prevent.

“Seeing a tragedy like this firsthand and knowing there are things we can do—through education, training and maintenance—to help prevent this type of emotional, physical and financial mess from happening to others helped me see the disconnect and wonder what I could do about it. The experience personally changed me.”

A logger and Tracie sit at a table together in a conference room.
Tracie listens to a logging contractor speak during a Rayonier safety training event.

Helping others understand why

Convincing folks in the timber industry to think differently about safety can be a challenge. Tracie’s mission is fueled by her passion for helping others and by a deep personal understanding of loss.

She also understands the types of “what-if” questions that pop up in the aftermath of a tragedy. Tracie’s father had a heart attack at work and his coworker, who wasn’t trained in CPR, was unable to save him. Since then, Tracie, who is a certified CPR and first aid instructor, has personally trained all of Rayonier’s U.S. employees.

“When I’m talking to people, they understand my passion is genuine. Safety conversations are often about telling others what to do, but if you focus instead on what it means to experience a loss or feel a sense of fear about what might happen if you don’t behave in a safe manner, it helps them understand why they need to adopt safer behaviors.”

Tracie plants a baby tree
Tracie joins a team of contractors as they hand-plant a Rayonier forest.

Day in the life

In Tracie’s world, no two days are the same, but there are some tasks that remain consistent from one day to the next. She begins each day by skimming her email and new near-miss reports to get an idea of what’s happening at Rayonier locations across the country. She finds out if there are any major issues or fires to put out — sometimes this even includes actual wildfires.

While many of the tasks on Tracie’s to-do list are obvious, such as refining policies, working on new initiatives, reviewing safety communications prior to publication, preparing reports for Rayonier’s Board of Directors and keeping up with OSHA changes, she also handles things that most people don’t ever think about. On any given day, she may help a department create a job hazard analysis (JHA) for the top four hazards facing their employees; determine how many straps need to go on a load before a truck leaves a landing and how far they can travel before they finish strapping; or work with Rayonier’s safety mentors to help prepare for the upcoming VPP audits.

Tracie enjoys interacting with others and says, “When you know the people, you really connect.” Because of this, she goes into the woods at least once a week and is often on the road, visiting Rayonier locations from coast-to-coast. As the main safety resource for Rayonier’s U.S. employees and contractors, she likens her role to “keeping a ship going in the right direction all the time.” The rapport she works so hard to build is essential for making course corrections as safety issues arise.

Tracie at table with loggers
Tracie speaks with loggers during a cross-country safety training event her team organized.

Safety as a way of life

A commitment to safety doesn’t end when her workday is done. When Tracie is tempted to look at her phone while driving or do something else that isn’t safe, she asks herself if it’s truly worth the risk. She reminds herself and family and friends of their own value, so that everyone understands what’s at risk if they don’t practice safe behaviors.

“Safety doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. There are a lot of resources out there that make it accessible to everyone.”

A steadfast dedication to protecting others and Tracie’s willingness to challenge the way things have always been done have inspired her to extend her focus beyond the walls of Rayonier’s safety program. She truly wants to show everyone that Rayonier is passionate about safety and unafraid of sharing what they’ve learned.

“People in the timber industry take a lot of pride in what they do and how well they do it. I’d like to see them adopt that same level of pride in doing their jobs safely. To do the work we do should not cost a life.”

Tracie’s goal is to challenge safety practices industry-wide. She is convinced that the only way forward is for the entire timber industry to come together and raise the bar. Strong safety cultures are fostered when expectations and accountability pertain to everyone from the CEO or owner to the new hire breaking in that first pair of boots. It will take an industry-wide effort to improve safety statistics and get off the list of the most dangerous occupations. Everyone must get on board.

“Safety is unique because we all have the right to it. It doesn’t matter what job we have, how much money we make in a year or how we’re different from anyone else. We all deserve to be safe.”

Article written by Karie Kermath, Safety Manager, Western Operations

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