On nights and weekends, UL’s David Wroth pounds down the Illinois Prairie Path, 61 miles of running trails converted from a Chicago Aurora and Elgin electric railroad right-of-way. On these long runs, he prepares for his next marathon—he’s tackled the Chicago Marathon eight times and the Dublin Marathon once—while contemplating how data can solve the safety challenges faced by many around the world.
Since April 2015, Wroth, director of data science within UL’s nonprofit arm Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (ULI), has been building a team of data scientists to uncover new insights into global safety challenges. The team has analyzed the frequency of hoverboard overheating incidents; the rate of deaths by fire and property loss across various countries in Asia; and hospitalization records, product reviews and incident data involving furniture tip-over injuries, microwave burns and appliance product failures.
His data science team is also responsible for the UL Safety IndexTM, a tool that quantifies the relative state of safety for nearly 190 countries around the world. For David, this is a passion project come to life.
“This project answers one of the big picture questions about safety – where are some people safer than others and why are they safer there?” said Wroth. “The UL Safety Index aligns with our mission to extend safety to those places that need it most. Our vision is to examine safety across global communities and share information on how a country, or a community, can embark on a strategy to improve safety for the vast majority of their citizens through high impact and sustainable solutions.”
Wroth joined UL in 2002 as the manager of local IT support for North America. For about five years, he ran teams that provided deskside support for PCs, overseeing the help desk, solving employee technology issues and managing the IT infrastructure that supports UL’s offices in the United States and Canada. From there, his role evolved into strategic planning and solutions architecture.
After becoming part of UL’s Enterprise Program Management Office, Wroth defined the roadmap for re-implementation of Oracle software to support finance and back-office operations, identified new technology solutions for laboratory staff and field engineers, and worked on the strategy to convert handwritten testing and inspection reports into digital data.
“That’s what got me started down the data science path. It’s this real understanding that the data UL has, and other organizations have, is really powerful and significantly untapped,” said Wroth.
Most recently, Wroth moved from UL to its not-for-profit arm to serve as director of strategy. In this role, he started to explore questions that led his data science team to the UL Safety Index and more. “We asked ourselves if it would be more impactful if we helped look at road safety in India, or helped build new safety standards capabilities in Myanmar, or is there an opportunity for us to help solve a particular product safety problem in Brazil,” explained Wroth. “It was these type of strategy questions that helped develop the roadmap for the UL Safety Index and formed the basis for my role as the data science lead.”
Before his career at UL, Wroth worked for several tech start-ups and served for more than 25 years in the United States Army. He spent five years on active duty and 20 years in the Army Reserve, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Wroth’s commitment to service has extended beyond his days in the Army and outside of the walls of UL. He is the president of the Community Board for the Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream, an organization committed to helping the town’s underserved communities.
“Service and working for a cause have always been a core value of mine. I knew I needed to work for a company that had a social purpose and I found that mission at UL,” concluded Wroth.
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