Building a Culture of Safety

Building a Culture of Safety

Safety Engineering Technology prepares students to lead safety in the workplace

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Over the last five decades, efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers, and safety and health professionals have had a positive impact on workplace safety in the U.S. OSHA reports both worker deaths and worker injuries and illnesses have seen a steady decline from 1970 to 2022. One reason why is that companies are devoting more resources to workplace safety.

Fox Valley Technical College is preparing safety engineers for the workforce by offering a fully online associate degree in Safety Engineering Technology. Jim Lange, department chair of the program, joined WHBY's Hayley Tenpas to explain what the curriculum looks like and what kind of positions students are securing in the workforce well before graduation.



Hayley Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley. Time now for our Focus on Careers segment, where we partner with Fox Valley Technical College to introduce you to some careers of promise. And we're learning further about the Safety Engineering Technology program. Let's bring in Jim Lange, who is the department chair for that Safety Engineering Technology program. Jim, welcome to the show.

Jim Lange: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Hayley Tenpas: I'm sure there's lots to learn today about the Safety Engineering Technology program. Before we dive into that, let's learn about you. If we could. How did you come to connect with Fox Valley Tech and what was your career like before joining FVTC?

Jim Lange: I had an interesting career, after high school, I went into the Navy and after that, I didn't know what I wanted to do. My original goal was to be a firefighter, but in the late '90s, it was hard to get hired by fire departments. And so, I was a volunteer. I went through paramedic school. I was making 9.50 an hour, taking the test against the same hundred people for every exam. So, I figured I had to do something different. I have a friend who's a safety professional. And it's like— ‘oh, that's something I could do’… and so I went down to Whitewater where I got my bachelor's degree there... the Warhawks.

Hayley Tenpas: Go Warhawks, yes, I'm an alum as well. Excellent.

Jim Lange: Yes, yes. So, that's how I got into that. And then I’ve worked for the paper industry I've also worked in plastics, the chemical industry. I was in construction as well. And, uh, this position opened, and I always enjoyed the training aspect. And I've been with the college. This is my 10th year now.

Hayley Tenpas: Excellent. So how does safety engineering fit into a workplace? Can you give some examples of, you know, where people might not realize safety engineering kind of fits?

Jim Lange: Yeah, the engineering is almost more of a misnomer. It's more just general occupational safety and that really what it's come down to is -- everybody hears about OSHA and all of that, but truly little of my job was dealing with OSHA. I know everybody in the Appleton office, they're all great people. It is much more about preventing injuries from a really from a workers comp standpoint. That's really where it all kind of ties together…  Whatever you're spending on work injuries through work comp, you have insurance for it, but most big companies are self-insured so that profit is gone. So, it is a lot of working with the employees and working with the supervisors and if you’re doing it right, it’s about finding solutions, finding the best way to do something, the safest way to do something.

Hayley Tenpas: Interesting. Are you able to provide any examples of workplace categories in general that might have someone employed in that Safety Engineering Technology position?

Jim Lange: Well, it's interesting. We have two degrees very closely aligned. We have one specialized in construction and one in actual safety engineering. But we've had graduates go on to work for all kinds of manufacturing companies, all kinds of construction companies. And insurance is one where we're getting more graduates going into it and being successful. Insurance companies don't want to pay out money any more than anyone else does. So, they have people working for them to go out and provide that type of assistance. It's something a lot of companies don't even realize that they have as part of their premium of what they pay for anyway. But that's the other thing that people can go to and into insurance. And then kind of you're going to unusual places all the time. From a construction standpoint, larger contractors are requiring their subcontractors to have a safety person on site. So, this degree is that degree. The construction degree was designed to fill that role. And then otherwise, in this role, graduates typically go into manufacturing, they'll go into a plant as that plant safety person, but we’ve also had people grow to the point of being the director of safety for some of the biggest companies in the Valley.

Hayley Tenpas: From what you've explained, this position makes absolute sense for how manufacturing strong we are in the Fox Valley, our construction is very strong here in the Fox Valley. So, it seems like we are a perfect fit for this career.

Jim Lange: Yes. The unique thing is both programs, our students aren't limited to just northeast Wisconsin. I have a student from Washington. I have a student from Texas, from Minnesota. Over the summer I had somebody from Saudi Arabia reach out interested in the program because it's an entirely online program. You can do it from anywhere you want. So, we've had a significant reach with that.

Hayley Tenpas: That's fascinating. And it's an associate degree program. So, let's talk a little bit about the curriculum, what that kind of looks like and the courses that students are taking.

Jim Lange:  It's an online program, 100% online. You don't have to come to campus although have tons of resources. It's not like some of the other programs where you must be on campus at a certain time. We have the kind of general classes or more of the foundational classes where people are learning the actual OSHA regulations because although it's a small part of the job, it's an important part of the job and understanding what the rules say. Then, more getting into the “why” behind the rules or the best practices and digging into the why. Why does this work and why do we want to do this? And for the students, it's that way when they're out working, they it's not just, ‘well, I know it works but it’s just we've always done it this way,’ It's much more like, ‘okay, yes, this is kind of why it works and this is how it all ties together’ and I mean, it is fascinating.

Hayley Tenpas:  We'll take a short break and return and learn more about the demand in the workforce for this career. So don't go away.

Hayley Tenpas: You're listening to Focus on Careers. A few minutes to go here as we are highlighting the Safety Engineering Technology program, an online program, and students as far away as Texas and Washington state taking part in this program at Fox Valley Technical College. Department Chair Jim Lange is joining us here today. And how quickly are students finding a spot in the workforce after completing this associate degree program?

Jim Lange: It's usually before they finish. That's one of the other nice things about being an online program is even a lot of the students that start full time, which is a minority, that's a small number that work full time, but usually after a year of being in school, they drop to part time to finish things out. In fact, if you look at our student, our average student is, um, a little older, has some workforce experience. They're working full time. Most of them have families going to school part time. And I think that's one of the benefits of online learning is although there are deadlines along the way, what I tell them is it doesn't matter to me if you want to do your work at 3:00 Wednesday afternoon or if you want to do it at one in the morning on Saturday, that doesn't matter to me as long as it's turned in on time. It's designed to be flexible and work around their schedule.

Hayley Tenpas: I love that flexibility kind of everything in 2024

Hayley Tenpas: Fantastic. So, if someone is listening and thinking to themselves, hmm, I'm intrigued by this program, especially the online option and the flexibility that it's offered. What qualities make them a good fit for the safety engineering program?

Jim Lange: Well, one of the interesting things about the safety field in general is there are a lot of different types of people in there in that field. I tend to be one of the technical ones, getting into the regulations and getting into understanding the science behind it. I have friends who do this and that and then others want to talk with employees and work directly with the people on the floor. So really, you must be able to do both in some sense. But really, anybody can do the job. It's just having that interest in the passion and helping people.

Hayley Tenpas: Well, I'm hoping we’ve piqued some listeners' interest, or at least they've learned something new about this program at Fox Valley Tech. I know that they're able to get in touch, though, with you or with the college if they want to learn more. And what's the best way for them to do that?

Jim Lange: The best way is through the website That will take you to the broad engineering page. And we're one of the four tabs, so if you're looking on a computer, I believe the arrow points right to safety.

Hayley Tenpas: Excellent, excellent. Well, Jim, thanks for sharing a bit of your world with all of us. And, uh, an exciting career field as well, with plenty of opportunity right here in the Fox Valley.

Jim Lange: Absolutely. Again, thank you for bringing me in today.