It was his first day on the job with a consulting firm after graduating from NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology with a BS in industrial management technology and an emphasis in environmental health and safety.
“Before I could even fill out my W-2,” said Nicholas Sanders ’14, “I received a call from a client reporting that they had a fatality, and there were two more critically injured.”
Sanders knew exactly what to do, thanks to the hands-on experience he gained at NIU and his earlier experience as a volunteer first responder. “How many colleges prepare you to enter the workforce ready to handle the worst-case scenario in literally your first hour,” he said.
Today, Sanders is the national safety manager for HelloFresh, at its Aurora, Co. distribution center. HelloFresh is a meal-kit company that delivers pre-measured ingredients for recipes customized to the consumer’s taste, household size and dietary needs.
Sanders’ job is to establish, implement and maintain safety and security processes and policies for warehouse assembly line staff at locations in Texas, California, Colorado and New Jersey.
“I started in 2017 as the only safety person and built our program that includes accident reporting and investigation, forklift training and everything else safety-related,” he said.
While his primary focus is worker safety, his team earned a Safe Quality Food certification from the Safe Quality Food Institute to ensure food safety. For example, they require every person who has contact with food to wear a hairnet, nitrile gloves and lab coat to prevent street clothing from contaminating food. All employees must pass a knowledge test on safety protocols before they are allowed into the operations area.
Food is tested at critical control points to monitor temperature and humidity and is checked for pathogens, molds or parasites. Quality checks are made initially when the food arrives at the warehouse and a quantitative quality control check is made of the finished goods before shipping.
Every person who visits the building enters passes metal detection and is issued a photo badge. All bags are searched as well.
As for his NIU education, Sanders said it was the on-site job experience part of his coursework that was absolutely critical to his success.
“NIU produces graduates who are ready to meaningfully contribute from day one, which is mandatory in the safety world because if you’re not ready to execute your mission people can be hurt or worse, killed,” he said. Sanders recalled how he decided that safety was his calling.
“I walked into a class taught by Dr. Hansen. His opening speech was clear – it’s not a field for everyone but if you want a career that has a deep personal impact, involves science, psychology, and engineering, and would let you work in almost any industry, then safety is for you. I remember walking out of class and telling my parents over the phone that I was changing my major to safety, and I haven’t looked back since!”