Making a Mark: Reimagining Safety Started Close to Home

October 10th, 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

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Brightmark employee works with mom in mind

When the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, those born and raised in the City of Brotherly Love have been known to do whatever it takes to ensure they stay strong for themselves and their family.

Brightmark employee Joe Atkinson fits this Philadelphia vibe perfectly.

When Joe was 12, his mother suffered an injury that would unknowingly put him on the path toward a career in health and safety.

Joe’s mom was a service repair technician for a major appliance store when Joe and his brother were growing up. One day, while making a routine service call, Joe’s mother had to load a microwave into the back of a van without the benefit of safety protocol—as safety protocol back then was lacking, not to mention microwaves were much heavier than they are now.

As she lifted the microwave into the truck, she felt a pop in her back. After a visit to the doctor, she learned she had herniated several discs while lifting, which led to surgery on her back, neck, and spine. It was severe enough that Joe’s mom had to stop working entirely.

As a result of the injury, Joe’s father had to take on a second job to make ends meet. He worked his day job in IT during the day and sorted mail at night. He did what was necessary to put food on the table and support his family.

Joe and his brother took notice.

What started as a job washing dishes with a caterer at the age of 13 became a job working in a supermarket at 15 that lasted through college. Working taught Joe the value of a dollar, even though he had to work out of necessity.

“My father worked so hard for our family after my mom was injured,” said Atkinson. “He didn’t complain. He just pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got to work, which showed me how important it was to work hard to provide for your family.”

Fast forward to college.

Joe left home originally to pursue his dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot, enrolling at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. However, while taking some safety classes that were a prerequisite for his degree, Joe discovered a career path that would more closely align with his values. What started as a desire to fly airplanes became a calling to help others stay safe.

As safety was becoming more regimented in a variety of industries, Joe saw the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling career while being able to (hopefully) prevent injuries like the one that had befallen his mother so many years ago.

“Once I saw the career path that might be laid out before me, it became clear that I could be in a position to stop tragic accidents from happening,” said Atkinson. “It was a no-brainer to switch my focus and work toward helping others stay safe.”

Joe became the first person in his family to earn his bachelor’s degree, following that up by earning his master’s degree from Holy Family University before entering the workforce.

His first job was as a safety and training specialist at a company that develops college testing materials, like SATs and PSATs. The company was housed in a building that more closely resembled a college campus where employees printed, sorted, and packed the paper tests before they were shipped out across the country.

Joe’s role was to oversee workforce training and safety, ensuring all employees were aware of the proper procedures in place for compliance. It wasn’t the most dangerous place to work, but as safety was becoming more regimented, people like Joe were needed to make sure the workplace was as safe as possible.

Joe enjoyed his work, but when COVID hit, he, like millions of other people, began to reevaluate his career path. The job at the college testing material company paid the bills, but it didn’t move the needle. Joe wanted to find a career where he could leave a legacy for his kids and feel good about what the company was doing to serve future generations—like his kids.

To sum it up, Joe wanted to tell his kids they could be proud of what their dad did for a living. He bounced around to other jobs, but they never lived up to his expectations of what working for a difference-making company could feel like.

Enter: Brightmark.

Joe began his career at Brightmark just over a year ago as a Senior Director of Environment, Health & Safety. Joe is responsible for working with other Brightmark renewable natural gas circularity centers daily.

“I’m constantly in talks with operators to ensure each center maintains best safety practices,” said Atkinson. “When it comes to permitting and day-to-day safety, I want to help my team solve the issues they deal with and maintain strict safety protocols so we protect the environment and nobody gets injured while doing this important work.”

It’s been somewhat of a revelation working at Brightmark. Whereas Joe spent most of his career working with companies that didn’t put too much stock in how it impacted the world around it, Brightmark is solely concerned with how it Reimagines Waste while instilling an employee-friendly culture.

“If my mom hadn’t been injured on the job, I’m pretty sure I would’ve followed in my dad’s footsteps and worked in IT in some aspect,” said Atkinson. “But finding a career at Brightmark has allowed me to find a career I can be proud of and one that is quite literally changing the world.”

Man posing for professional headshot
Brad Marley

Brad is a lifelong storyteller who helps companies find their single source of truth. He works with brands in tech and sustainability to identify their most impactful narratives and ensure that messaging is weaved throughout their storytelling efforts. Brad brings more than 20 years of storytelling experience to bear as he helps Brightmark make its mark.

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