Lori Purnell: Blazing a Trail in Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance

Lori Purnell: Blazing a Trail in Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance

For decades, the field of safety, health, and environmental (SHE) compliance has been dominated by men; women have long been underrepresented and underestimated. However, there are those who have not only broken through the glass ceiling but have also shattered it, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. Among these leaders stands Lori P. Purnell , a woman whose passion, expertise, and unwavering commitment to making workplaces safer and more compliant have earned her a well-deserved place in the annals of the field.   

As the founder and principal engineer of Spencer-SHE, Lori has spent the past four decades pioneering innovative solutions and authoring influential training materials that have reshaped the landscape of safety, health, and environmental compliance.    

Turning Setbacks into Success   

Lori didn't set out to be an entrepreneur. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Alabama and later obtained a Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. With a strong educational foundation, she took a job at Western Electric as the sole female engineer among 500.    

While there, she honed her skills in conducting industrial hygiene surveys, developing safety training programs, and managing critical operations such as wastewater treatment and electroplating. This hands-on experience laid the groundwork for her future endeavors and gave her a deep understanding of the challenges faced by businesses in maintaining compliance with health, safety, and environmental regulations.   

When Lori returned to Birmingham in 1980, she faced a dearth of job prospects in her chosen field. However, rather than letting this setback discourage her, the ambitious young woman saw it as an opportunity to forge her own path. "There were no positions available in the Birmingham area that I was interested in," Lori explains. "It seemed like no one was offering this service, and I couldn't find a job elsewhere, so I decided to start the business myself."   

With the determination and vision that would define her career, she boldly decided to start her own business, filling a critical gap in the occupational health and environmental compliance services market. "I did not know fear, nor did I know the word failure," she recalled. "I did not know that was even an option." Her confidence paid off, as the company achieved profitability within a mere six months   

Strategic Compliance Solutions   

Today, Spencer-SHE specializes in providing comprehensive health, safety and environmental compliance consulting and training to small and mid-sized businesses, primarily in manufacturing, distribution and transportation. Lori and her team of 12 civil engineers, environmental planners, technical editors, geologists and industrial hygienists partner with clients to design and implement integrated regulatory compliance programs, process improvements and loss mitigation strategies.   

"Essentially, we conduct a risk assessment," Lori clarifies. "We audit their files, performing a gap assessment to determine the discrepancies between the regulatory requirements and their current compliance status." This thorough analysis covers policies, procedures, engineering controls, and worker training programs.    

On the environmental side, Spencer-SHE assists clients with air emissions, water discharges, waste management and permitting. "We assess the industry they operate in," Lori states, "and then provide them with the necessary regulations they must adhere to." The firm collects samples, coordinates with independent labs, and handles complex permit applications. "After the approving agency issues the permit, they begin facility inspections to ensure compliance with the permit conditions," Lori explains.   

While Spencer-SHE serves some large corporations and the military, their "sweet spot" is manufacturing plants with 40-500 employees that produce everything from catfish fillets to automotive parts. "Our focus is always on heavy-duty transportation," Lori points out. "We serve facilities that manufacture bumpers, truck cockpits, and other automotive components."   

Innovating Worker Protection   

Throughout her extensive career, Lori has significantly advanced worker protection. As the Program Director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she managed a grant program that developed technical health and safety training for hazardous waste management and emergency response. She also authored two key safety training textbooks.   

Additionally, Spencer-SHE offers online safety training through its training website on everything from OSHA 10-hour certification to specific topics like electrical safety and machine guarding.    

After 44 years, Lori Purnell shows no signs of slowing down in her mission to help companies protect workers' health and the environment. Through Spencer-SHE, she continues to innovate, educate and lead by example, paving the way for the next generation of women entrepreneurs.   

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

Hi there, we're the editorial team at WomELLE. We offer resources for business and career success, promote early education and development, and create a supportive environment for women. Our magazine, "WomLEAD," is here to help you thrive both professionally and personally.

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