Abby Ferri, a career safety professional from Minnesota, prolific event speaker and co-founder of the Safety Justice League podcast is the American Society of Safety Professionals’ (ASSP) Safety Professional of the Year for 2022.
Ferri, a risk and EHS management consultant and ASSP member for 20 years, was recognized for her efforts to advance occupational safety and health in many ways, including a key role played in a recent ASSP governance change that sees diverse advisory groups replacing the organization’s long-standing House of Delegates. Ferri has served on the ASSP Governance Task Force that researched association governance trends and developed the recommendations that were later adopted to strengthen the group.
Among the efforts that Ferri helped spearhead was a move away from an established elected House of Delegates that dealt with all task-force issues to a more fluid and shorter-term appointed advisory groups that tackle singular topics. It was an effort of which Ferri says she is particularly proud.
There was a strong desire to become agile as an organization – move things quicker without having to wait for a House of Delegates vote to happen, she says. In addition, the ASSP wanted give those most interested in a health and safety topic or concern an opportunity to participate in discussions that have greater relevance to those in certain occupations or in specific regions.
“In the past when there was representation based on chapters, there would be people in Florida talking about snowplow safety,” Ferri says. “Now it is more likely that (task-force members) will have stronger interest in a task force topic. It usually wouldn’t have been that way if we had the House of Delegates representing different chapters.
“I’m glad that the decision went through because I feel it’s an opportunity for younger people and early-in-career professionals to be involved,” she adds. “Not everyone has the support of their employer to attend frequent (ASSP) meetings or be involved in a two- to four-year commitment (as a House of Delegates representative) …so it’s an opportunity for a micro-volunteering experience.”
Ferri has over the past decade been a speaker at more than 100 regional, national and international events while appearing on dozens of safety and health podcasts. She was the speaker for an Intelex-sponsored webinar earlier this year, “Technology for EHS Performance Excellence: 2022 and Beyond,” which provides resources for EHS professionals to evaluate different types of technology that can be utilized as part of EHS management, including artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, Internet of Things, wearable devices and more.
In 2020, she co-founded a podcast called “The Safety Justice League,” which has been influential in exploring a wide range of safety and health issues. It consistently ranks on Apple Podcasts’ Top 200 business and career charts.
“The community that happened around the podcast was something that was really unexpected,” she says. “We didn’t think it would happen. We didn’t think we’d still be recording podcasts at this point. I think people in operations are listening to the podcast that aren’t even in safety, which is another thing that wasn’t anticipated. But we’re happy to have them.”
Ferri grew up in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, attending the University of Minnesota at Duluth. She holds a master’s degree in environmental health and safety and upon graduation went immediately to work as safety director for a general contractor in Southern California. She moved into insurance risk control for construction companies and after the birth of her daughter went to work as a private safety consultant, which allowed her the flexibility to balance working with parenting.
Ferri ventured into the emerging space of craft breweries that became a focus of OSHA inspections and citations and reached out to the Minnesota Craft Brewery’s Guild offering to be a part of their growth and help those in the industry understand safety.
“I became the craft brewery safety person that people still go to and ask questions to this day because I helped them start their safety committee and support it,” she says. “I was the first safety services company that was a member of the guild. It’s the experience everyone asks me about even though it was a small blip in my career.”
She is currently the chief risk officer at Insurate, an insurtech managing general agent (MGA) leveraging data science and analytics to identify businesses that are significantly safer than industry averages, providing workers comp savings to companies with a dedicated culture of safety.
She is the former president of the Northwest ASSP chapter, the past administrator of the Women in Safety Excellence group and is the author of two Kindle books, “The Safety Habit” published in 2020 and “The Safety Consultant’s Toolkit” published in 2021 that shares her knowledge of starting and running a safety consulting firm.
“I always felt compelled to run or be involved with something that the chapter was doing. In addition to that – I was thinking about how to get people into this career or trades careers,” Ferri says. “I think safety and trades careers go hand in hand.”
Michael Thompson, ASSP chairperson for the technical and professional recognition committee, says being a leader takes more than just showing up to work, going through the motions and completing your objectives. He says that Ferri epitomizes the concept of servant leadership,
“It takes putting your heart and soul into it,” he says. “Abby has had a stellar career to date. She’s following along the pattern of great contributors in the workplace and communities. I think I know her pretty darn well by looking at her petition (for the award) and all the supporting material she provided”
Ferri becomes only the third women to receive the ASSP Safety Professional of the Year award and the first since 2007. If she were to give an acceptance speech for the honor, Ferri says she strongly encourage other ASSP members to identify themselves or others who are worthy of the honor.
“My message (to other women) around accepting this award is, don’t let another 15 years go by,” she says. “There are tons of diverse, amazing people within ASSP that are doing great things. Sometimes they’re too busy to pull together an application to be recognized. I want to make myself available – to mentor them through that application process.”