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Same Passion, New Beginnings

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Shepherd at the Otis Bristol test tower during his long tenure with the company

Bob Shepherd speaks on long history in the industry, bold initiatives as leader of NAESA and what motivates him.

ELEVATOR WORLD had the pleasure of speaking with longtime elevator man Robert “Bob” Shepherd (RS). Shepherd is the new executive director of NAESA International (EW, February 2016) and was gracious enough to speak not only about his big plans for the organization, but also his eventful 44 years in the industry and laser focus on safety.

EW: Tell us a bit about your early days in the industry.

RS: I began working in the elevator industry as a probationary International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) helper in 1973. It is extremely difficult to comprehend that 44 years have passed from the day when I first walked through the back doors of a small elevator company in the old city section of Philadelphia. It was the start of a long journey through time where I wasn’t so sure if I would survive through the first full and boring day, but the years that followed were anything but boring.

It didn’t take me long to observe that the elevator industry is, by far, the most technologically diverse, creative and challenging industry on the planet, with the installers being the best skilled and most creative tradespeople in the world. The many consultants, engineers, inspectors and all others intertwined within this industry are tasked with being some of the best, because of the worker and rider safety demands, attention and adherence to codes, industry performance expectations, and today’s ever-changing architectural design demands.

EW: Would you like to mention any industry people who were influential to you in your younger days?

RS: Early in my elevator career, I was given a small bit of advice from an elevator adjuster friend, Andy, whom I often had the privilege to help. Andy instructed me to listen to all he said as he worked, and, if I did, I would benefit. He never expected a comment or answer; Andy just expected me to listen, which I did. I took his advice, so I listened more than I spoke, and now here I am, much better off for the education given by this great mentor from within this unique and diverse industry. Andy was an elevator genius and started me down the right path.

In the past many years, I have worked in the field with Eastern Elevator, United Elevator and, for a short time, some others, but for the last 33 years, I was employed by Otis Elevator. I have held many positions of increasing responsibility with Otis: mechanic; adjustor; supervisor; superintendent; service manager; global field engineer; system integration team product development field manager; and, finally, codes and product quality manager for North America.

EW: What are the more recent industry initiatives with which you’ve been involved?

RS: For the past several years, I have been very active as a member of several ASME A17.1/CSA B44 committees as a member of the A17 QEI, Inclined Lift, Inspections, Existing Installations, Maintenance/Repair Replacement, Escalator and Moving Walk committees. I also intend to join the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and A17.1/B44 Standards committees. For the past dozen years, I have been a member of NAESA, allowing me to give numerous presentations on codes, new technology and safety at NAESA workshops, universities, safety symposiums, AHJ offices and several branches of the U.S. Department of Defense. I have been NAESA QEI certified since 2004. I have created a safety initiative called “Stay Safety Pinned” to heighten industry safety awareness at the street level. I am now working through NAESA to expand this program and bring it to more people.

My new role as executive director of NAESA is quite removed from the day I quit college as an Elementary Education major to get married with every intention of returning to school, but instead, I chose a path to the elevator industry with the prodding of my dad, who was an IUEC mechanic in Philadelphia. My time in school as an education major has not been wasted; to my benefit, it made me better equipped to work with the “kids” in the industry. (Excuse my slight attempt at some humor!)

EW: Which changes have you brought to NAESA, and what do you plan to do in the short term?

RS: When I made the decision to pursue, then accept the position of executive director of NAESA, I made a promise to NAESA members and all the elevator industry to be transparent, readily available, understanding and consistent in the support of the ASME A17.1/B44 codes, applicable A17.1/B44 guides and standards, local codes, and applicable ISO standards and requirements for American National Standards Institute accreditation of the NAESA QEI certification program. I vowed to always strive to make rider and worker safety NAESA’s foremost focus, while endeavoring to attain the dream of zero accidents. I believe that dreams and goals are one and the same, but goals have deadlines. My hope is that with the help of the elevator world working together for the same cause, we can (someday soon) realize the dream and goal of zero fatalities and major accidents.

It is time for a new beginning at NAESA. Over the coming months, our members and the rest of the elevator world will see and experience many enhancements to the organization. A new-look website, which will be more informative and much easier to navigate, will be unveiled. We will be bringing back the online public elevator forum for members, which will allow open discussion on all types of conveyances and safety topics. NAESA is also working to bring back the annual NAESA workshops, and we will be reaching out for feedback from all members to select the most preferred, attractive, convenient and strategic locations. NAESA will also be adding articles for the Progress newsletter from A17.1/B44 committee chairmen who will share proposed code revisions or approved code changes with rationale. Some future Progress article topics will include: new technology, how the QEI certification process works, explaining past code inquiries, trends in the marketplace and numerous others. Every iteration will contain a Safety Corner, which will highlight safety within the industry and for all walks of life. At times, NAESA will also post articles from other elevator organizations so they may share their good news.

I have set off for a new start and a new day, which, in actuality, is not much different from my first new day as a helper many years ago in Philadelphia. I feel the same mystery, fear, concern, pride and optimism I had experienced a long time ago when a much younger man, but now with my eyes wide open and, of course, being much better prepared for what lies ahead.

I would like to meet as many folks from the elevator industry as humanly possible, with a personal hope to introduce myself to all and to get my arms around your thoughts. I prefer telephone calls or in-person conversation instead of email for sharing hellos and ideas. Please feel free to call me as needed or just to say hello! I will strive to answer calls 24/7 or as soon as possible after your message is left at my cell phone: (609) 780-5551.

EW: Could you elaborate on your longer-term initiatives for NAESA?

RS: One of my dreams, which will become reality, is for NAESA to spearhead an elevator safety event called “The Elevator Industry Safety Summit.” This summit will focus on fatality prevention for the worker and rider and be in Phoenix to spotlight and capture new ideas on accident prevention and accident occurrence reduction with a prime focus on fatality prevention. Presentations and discussion will emphasize recent elevator-industry accident history, prevention methods, possible A17.1 code additions for heightened rider and worker safety, and risk mitigation through policy, process and new regulations. Possible supporting organizations, participants and expert speakers will come from everywhere and hopefully include: NAESA, the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, the National Association of Elevator Contractors, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), OSHA, IUEC, EW, Elevator U, and many other elevator and industrial safety organizations. All elevator companies will be invited to support and actively participate. NAESA will also enlist help and participation from AHJs, consultants, inspectors, industry safety experts and any others who have a true passion to heighten safety awareness and improve elevator safety for all involved and affected. I apologize if I have missed some organizational names and groups of people in my thoughts, but my mind is racing with the idea and just tossing it all out there. I expect to clarify specifics at a later time.

EW: Do you have any other stories or advice to share?

RS: Establish your credibility, work diligently to maintain it and never allow it to be compromised, because you can’t buy it back!

During the process of my responding to the many congratulatory emails from friends, industry members and relatives, I had to stop and think, “What would happen if I were taken from this earth, and all these people were no longer a part of my life? Who would miss me, and who would I miss?” This awakened thoughts of my mother, who was killed by accident a few years back on a cold Christmas Eve. Then, within seconds, my thoughts turned to home safety and safety in the workplace, remembering that, all too often, there is a lack of opportunity to realize a second chance while working in our industry.

Back to my mom: she passed away at 86 years young. Before that fateful night in late December, I was comfortable knowing that my loving mom was always available for advice, support, a soft shoulder and helping me smile. Every year, once the spring returned to Southern New Jersey with the gnats starting to bite and the dogwood trees blooming, strawberries would go on sale at all the farm stands. As I would travel throughout my work day, I would quite often buy some of those strawberries; then, on my way home, I would stop and give them to my mom as a small offering that provided her great joy and brought many smiles to my heart but, now, she is gone. It is so tragic that an accident took her from my life and me from her, but in reality, she doesn’t miss me. The truth is, I miss her and now I can only smile as I reminisce about the memories of strawberries and so many other little things that make up the big things. So, what does any of this have to do about safety and you?

Every day in the elevator industry, people take risks that place their health and lives in jeopardy. Why do we take risks that could lead to accidents? There are many foolish reasons for assuming risk, but none are ever worth the price. When and if there comes a time that safety is going to be abandoned, stop and think, “Who will miss me?” Taking the time to personalize and humanize safety could save your life. Think of all the people you may leave behind. Is the risk worth the price? Is not walking a few yards to secure the proper tool or a ladder, find the required rigging, follow the safe work procedure, and so on the correct choice? Should following industry suggested and approved safe work practices the path we should take? Of course! Please remember that on each and every day of your life, your family, loved ones and I personally want all of you to return home to your families and friends and to keep doing all of those little things. So, do me a small but heartfelt favor: at the start of each day as you prepare to leave home and possibly head into harm’s way, please take your life with you and place it safely in your hands. Never forget the people who love and depend on you – the people who will miss you. So here is a suggestion to help you remember that you are not alone in this world and, particularly, in safety: take a loved one with you to work every day. Place a photo of your son, daughter, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, dog, cat, or whomever or whatever you hold dear. Place that picture on your toolbox, laptop, clipboard, hardhat – whatever it takes to remind you that you are never alone and always needed and loved. Take it to work with you as a reminder, then return it home every day, safely placing it back in its place at your home. Look at every situation and, before you proceed, stop and think of the hazards, look at your loved one, and, as part of your risk mitigation plan, think of those who have their own strawberries to give or receive this spring and every spring. Do it for you, do it for your loved ones and, lastly, do it for me! Keep a focus to “Stay Safety Pinned” for the safety of every single person out there – no exceptions!  

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