Metro

R. Scott Stricoff, 66, of Newton; safety expert consulted with NASA

Mr. Stricoff’s work with his Behavioral Science Technology colleagues helped lead NASA to establish a safety center.
Mr. Stricoff’s work with his Behavioral Science Technology colleagues helped lead NASA to establish a safety center.

After seven crew members died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while reentering the atmosphere in 2003, NASA asked R. Scott Stricoff, president of the safety consulting firm Behavioral Science Technology, to help identify policies that needed to be addressed.

“Scott had a remarkable capacity to read a situation, and he devised a strategy of how to engage engineers, scientists, and technical professionals at our 10 NASA centers in reinvigorating a strong culture of safety,” said Sean O’Keefe, former administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “He was a compelling individual.”

O’Keefe said Mr. Stricoff’s work with his Behavioral Science Technology colleagues helped lead NASA to establish a safety center in Langley, Va.

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In a legacy video recorded for his company in 2012, Mr. Stricoff called the NASA assignment “the one that stands out” during a more than 40-year career that included safety consulting with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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Mr. Stricoff, a former vice president at the Arthur D. Little consulting firm who also had taught graduate courses at Tufts University, died of cancer Feb. 14 in his Newton home. He was 66.

During a NASA round table discussion at the time he was advising the agency, Mr. Stricoff noted that “we are not making washing machines here. This is complicated stuff, and it has a high level of risk associated with it. If you are going to be an organization that functions in that kind of an environment . . . you really can’t settle for being anything other than the best.”

Mr. Stricoff worked for two decades at Behavioral Science Technology, which the German firm DEKRA acquired in 2012. Mr. Stricoff stayed on as president of global safety consulting for DEKRA’s insight division until shortly before his death.

An author and frequent contributor to the National Safety Council’s Safety and Health Magazine, Mr. Stricoff said in the video that he was fortunate to have participated in a variety of groundbreaking projects, and was particularly affected by an assignment at a company that compounded rubber.

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“They used a large mixer with two cylinders, and the operator would go in with a long stick to strip off the rubber,” he recalled. “But one time a worker was pulled through the mixer, and that horrendous image had a big impact on me.”

Mr. Stricoff said the experience drove home the point that his work as a safety consultant transcended simply “making pesticides or gasoline more efficient.” He also noted that his career as a safety expert began by accident.

“When I got out of MIT, one of my professors referred me to Arthur D. Little, where I started out in an entry-level job in safety and fire technology,” said Mr. Stricoff, who became vice president and managing director of the Cambridge-based company’s environmental health and safety business.

Jim Grant, a close friend and vice president at Behavioral Science Technology, said Mr. Stricoff “didn’t have an arrogant bone in his body. He was extremely confident and a brilliant thinker, and he was the smartest safety professional and best writer that I’ve ever met.”

Grant noted that although many of Mr. Stricoff’s answers to colleagues were short and to the point, sometimes just one word, “he always wanted to help and loved the people around him. Scott was honest about their capabilities and strengths, but never bashed them about their weaknesses.”

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In 2008, Mr. Stricoff worked on a project with the FAA to determine behaviorally what would make air traffic controllers more effective.

“I realized the impact of Scott’s work when, about six months later, I was walking between meetings at the FAA,” recalled Grant. He ran into an FAA employee who said a report Mr. Stricoff had prepared was “regarded within the FAA as the bible for air traffic, and how they implemented the recommendations across the entire system and fundamentally changed how they managed the towers.”

Mr. Stricoff also made time for levity with colleagues, such as when he walked into a staff meeting wearing a Chicago Blackhawks hockey jersey. He had lost a wager with a coworker from Chicago after the Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.

Born in New York City, Mr. Stricoff later moved with his family to Long Island, where he graduated from Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst in 1967. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s in business administration from Northeastern University.

His brother, Alan, of New York City, recalled in a memorial tribute that they played baseball constantly as boys. “We threw hardballs, softballs, tennis balls, and Wiffle balls until dark,” Alan said. “On the concrete driveway and in the streets of Queens, N.Y., we threw grounders and pop-ups until the horsehide on the hardball was mangled and worn off.”

Alan added: “I forgive you, brother, for abandoning the Yankees and becoming a Red Sox fan.”

Mr. Stricoff coached his children, Jessica Milan of Framingham and David of Roslindale, in various youth sports in Newton.

“In hindsight, I’m really impressed that he was able to do it, given all the traveling he did,” David said.

Jessica noted that no matter how busy his schedule, her father made sure to make it home for dinner at 6 p.m.

Mr. Stricoff, who also loved spending time with his young grandson, Jake, and challenging him with math problems, met Anita Figueras when she worked as an administrative assistant at Arthur D. Little. They married in 1976.

In addition to his wife, children, grandson, and brother, Mr. Stricoff leaves his father, Lenny, of Delray Beach, Fla.; his sister, Debbie, of Long Beach, N.Y.; and another brother, Gary, of Monroe, Conn.

Mr. Stricoff’s wife, who put together a memorial pamphlet for a service last month at The Langham hotel in Boston, has also written a memoir of her husband.

“Laughter has always been a component of our marriage,” she wrote in 2010, noting that her life with him “is happy and blessed. He is such a good and decent man.”

Tom and Cathryn Krause, cofounders of Behavioral Science Technology, said in the memorial pamphlet that “Scott became a leader of our company in the early ’90s when we needed a strong and experienced voice.”

They expressed admiration for “his balanced view of things, his prudent judgements, and his sense of humor,” and added that with Mr. Stricoff, “there was an integrity that came through and made all the difference.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.