Engineering safety president on the challenges of transforming organization, and the legacy she wants to leave behind
Founded in 1949, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) has a mission to promote accident prevention. More than 70 years after its inception, the organization – led by Christl Aggus – has been going through a transformation as of late.
Aggus discovered the CSSE when she was pursuing a certificate in occupational health and safety at the University of Alberta. Eventually, Aggus got involved with the organization at a national level on a committee to put together a couple of publications. She was hooked. "Because there were like-minded individuals, I was able to have conversations where I could run ideas past people," she says.
Aggus, who is also a management consultant at Principle Safety, was a member for a number of years and then decided to get more involved. “I noticed that we weren’t progressing the way the rest of the world’s associations and societies were progressing. And so I thought I can make a difference. In order for me to make a difference, I need to get more involved. So I stepped up.”
She was elected as the secretary in her local chapter, and then an opportunity came up at the national level. Aggus was elected as the secretary at the national level, “where I discovered that I could really be an important influence". There was a lot of movement at the top level of the company, and eventually Aggus was asked to be President of the CSSE in 2021.
“My role is to ensure that the board has a pathway to success,” she says.
There were a lot of changes to effect in those first months, which Aggus says was a very difficult time. The organization was going through a transitional phase, and she was learning how to run the not-for-profit which she says is completely different from running her own business.
Reflecting on the legacy that she wants to leave, Aggus says that she wants to “ensure that we’ve got a mentorship process in place where we are identifying future leaders, recognizing those future leaders and training [them] to become governance and leadership people within health and safety.”
Aggus has been in the safety for years and started out in an administrative role, until the company that she was working for had an incident. After this, the company decided that they needed a program in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Though there was a safety manual on site, it sat on the shelf. “The program was never implemented,” says Aggus. “And I realized that that was never going to work, so I started to do a little bit of research.”
This is where Aggus discovered her passion for safety. “I just started to get to know people, listening to people and forming relationships with workers that I normally never would have talked to.”
Aggus eventually did so well, her company fired her. The reason she was let go? To encourage her to take her next step in the safety field. The company hired Aggus as a consultant to maintain its safety program, and that’s how she eventually started her consultancy business. She was so comfortable in her role; she would never have left. “And I wouldn’t have known this joy.”
Health and safety for Aggus is about “helping people to be able to govern their own health and safety and empowering them to be able to speak up,” she says. “The best part of it is when you see the lightbulb go on, [to know] that you’ve affected somebody’s life because you’ve changed the way they think about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it.”
Aggus says that it can a challenge to run her business – and ensure that her clients have the same level of service – and run the Society which she calls her “passion.”
And while it can be difficult, Aggus says that she hopes “it never gets easier, because it’s the challenge that I’m there for.” The efforts that she and her team have been pouring into the CSSE have started to pay off, she says, because she’s starting to see more recognition of the position of the Society within the global health and safety world.
“It’s been a journey for me – a two way journey. The joy that I have gotten from being able to serve the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers is always going to be one of the highlights of my life.” Though it’s only a finite portion of time, Aggus says that she is “eternally grateful for the opportunity that has been afforded to me. But more importantly, for the knowledge and personal growth that I’ve experienced as a result of that experience.”