Thadd Sherer began his career with POET as a Plant Technician in 2008 with the startup of POET Biorefining – Marion. Today, he serves as Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Specialist for the biorefinery.
As the EH&S Specialist Sherer leads the environmental, health and safety programs at POET Biorefining – Marion and is responsible for ensuring the facility’s culture is one where the environment, health and safety of all is the top priority.
To do so, Sherer relies on the relationships he’s built with each of his team members, many of whom have worked with him since the startup of the plant. He says a statement that was popularized by John Maxwell influences the way he fosters a culture of caring: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Preceding his time with POET, Sherer served as a fifth-grade math teacher and basketball coach. Before that, he was a youth pastor.
“I’ve always been in positions like education where you care for those that you’re responsible for and have a deep concern for their well-being while also trying to create an environment where motivation is somewhat intrinsic,” says Sherer.
He continues to rely on the same skills he used as a teacher to create and maintain a positive culture of safety for his team members. “I can hammer out rules and regulations, but if people don’t realize that my first priority is their safety it really doesn’t matter.”
Sherer says he’s aware his position can often be seen as one of someone looking to point out what others are doing wrong. However, he’s hoping to change that perception by relying on his relationships with his co-workers and opening up a different type of dialog about safety.
“My goal is to build safety ownership. As an EH&S Specialist, oftentimes you’re looked at as the safety promoter. You’re always the one that’s supposed to fight against doing something unsafe or to be the one that takes the opposite perspective of doing something the easiest way. I’m really trying to pull back out of that role.”
Instead of pointing out mistakes or fighting against the easy way, Sherer takes a different approach.
“We want to drive a culture of caring. Oftentimes the traditional safety role would be, if you see someone doing something that is unsafe, you would confront them. And usually, confronting means you’re pointing out immediately what they’re doing wrong. However, I recently came across the term ‘care fronting.’”
Essentially, ‘care fronting’ involves first letting a team member know that you’re concerned for them, not just because what they’re doing may be wrong, but because you don’t want to see them get hurt. Once you let them know that their health and safety are your priority you can move on to what exactly was unsafe. “A lot of times when these things happen it’s because we’re feeling rushed, frustrated or complacent. Maybe they’ve done it so many times and don’t think it’s going to backfire.”
Sherer’s culture of caring has extended well beyond the walls of the Marion biorefinery. He is actively engaged in the Marion community and participates in a number of different volunteer efforts, many of which are through the plant’s C.O.T.B. (Community Outreach and Team Building) group.
The group was founded in 2016 by Christopher Sentman, Plant Engineer at POET Biorefining — Marion. The group is responsible for community outreach and team building. According to Sentman, “The team is made up of all volunteers who are both passionate about outreach, proud of their community and seek to create a fun, welcoming environment at work. All of these qualities exemplify Thadd.”
Sherer has been involved with the group since its inception and participates in events benefiting community organizations such as United Way, Seeds of Change, the Salvation Army and several other local nonprofits.
In addition to being a contributor to nearly all of the C.O.T.B. volunteer events and a core member of the team, Sherer has also owned several of the group’s initiatives related to safety.
In 2019, Sherer organized a farm safety demonstration during POET Biorefining — Marion’s producer appreciation luncheon. During the event, the local fire department educated attendees about hazards on the farm. Sherer has plans to further grow the event in future years and focus on an unforeseen danger for our producer partners — engulfment from corn. The event, which Sherer has named “Operation Farm Shield” will include participants from the surrounding five counties and will be an interactive training event for farmers as well as their families to better understand grain bin safety.
“If your children and spouse know that you’re getting ready to enter a grain bin but they don’t really understand the hazards related to that, they might not think too much of it. But with this event we have an opportunity to reveal some of the hazards and discuss some of the recent occurrences of entrapments, incidents, or even deaths,” said Sherer. By involving the entire family as well as the community, Sherer says safety education efforts will be more successful. “Safety is a lot more than just me, myself and I. It’s important to have everyone engaged, to be my brother’s keeper kind of thing, and we try to apply that in everything we do.”
Sherer’s work within the community doesn’t stop there. Recently, Sherer worked to donate a foam trailer to the local fire department. The trailer is capable of carrying foam and hooking up to a fire truck to shoot large amounts of foam on flammable liquid spills to suppress vapors. “The vapors are what burn and what can explode. With the expansion of the Marion facility we identified this as a priority for our team and for the community,” said Sherer.
The Marion community was also in need of mentors for at-risk youth, many of whom have had issues at home including neglect and other problems related to drugs. “Marion has been pretty well devastated by the effects of drugs. As a result, many kids just don’t have those strong parental figures they need. We’d see children signing up just to sit down and talk to an adult they don’t know during their lunch break or recess. I remember being a kid and I would never give up my recess, so that’s how I knew how big of a need there is for that parental influence in their lives,” said Sherer. Sherer has participated in the program for the past three years. According to Sentman, “What is unique about Thadd is that he always requests the most challenging kids that no mentors will take on. The kids he has mentored come from very unstable homes but he is up for the challenge to help however he can.”
The program was put on hold during the 2020 spring semester due to COVID-19. Marion was one of the first communities in Ohio which led the state for the number of cases of the virus. As a result, Sherer helped implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at the biorefinery to keep team members safe and healthy.
With new guidelines, such as the requirement to wear masks, Sherer again led with compassion to help team members understand that while masks may be uncomfortable or cumbersome, they are important to protect others and the community. “I ask the team to keep in mind that they’re making these sacrifices for the sake of their neighbor and not for themselves. Wearing a mask may not be something that’s going to benefit me. It’s to prevent me from inadvertently spreading anything that I may have to someone else,” said Sherer.
In order to proactively help the Marion community battle the pandemic, the biorefinery also donated hand sanitizer to the Lexington, Kentucky, Police Department and the Marion City School District. The plant also donated PPE to the local hospital and has plans to donate additional sanitizer to Ohio State University in Marion.
For Sherer, it’s all about caring for his team members and his community in any way he can. It’s something he’s tried to do throughout his entire career, from youth pastor to teacher and now to his role with POET as EH&S Specialist. According to Sherer, the team he works with makes this especially easy.
“I couldn’t work with a better team of people. I really am blessed to work with such a good group of people here at Marion. I’m sure there were a lot of people that can’t say this but I think of them as family.”