'My ultimate goal has always been to put myself out of work'
David Irwin is the senior HSE manager at Walsh Canada in Toronto. He is a Gold Seal Certified (GSC) Construction Safety Coordinator with 13 years’ experience working in the safety profession. Irwin was instrumental in Walsh Canada winning four Canada’s Safest Employers awards between 2017 and 2018. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, camping and coaching hockey.
Q. What has been your biggest safety-related challenge so far in your career?
A. Changing the misconception that safety is a burden on production. Selling people on the return on investment of safety is an uphill climb at times; although, that challenge is getting easier as more people understand that safe production does pay off in the end. More senior managers are seeing that the safest projects are the most productive and profitable ones.
Q. How did you get into health and safety and why?
A. It was my previous experience as a trainer in the military that got me into health and safety. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and training, formal and informal, is a big part of being a safety professional. I can’t make someone be safe; I can only make them want to be safe by educating and advising them.
Q. What do you like the most about being a safety professional?
A. Personal interactions. I love walking around a project and stopping to talk with someone about what they are doing and learning firsthand about their job. Learning about people’s work gives me the ability to create more relevant policies and better processes that will help protect them while they work. I have found that the most effective way to get people to “buy in” to safety is by making it personal.
Q. What do you hope to have ultimately achieved in your safety career?
A. It is a career-limiting belief, but my ultimate goal has always been to put myself out of work. I would honestly love to see the day when safety is such an integral part of every business that professionals like myself are no longer needed. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but it is the attitude I bring to work every day.
Q. What motivates you to do your best at work every day?
A. Quite simply, no one getting hurt. The Walsh motto is “Actively Caring — No One Gets Hurt” and that’s my motivation. I have seen too many lives affected by being hurt at work when they all could have been prevented. I try my best every day to make work safer so when my kids enter the working world, they are better protected.
Q. What is the biggest change you have seen in the profession over the course of your career?
A. Perceptions. When I started it was “Oh no, the safety guy is here.” My approach is that of “safety coach” rather than “safety cop,” which makes people want to do it over having to do it. I find that safety promotion and education from agencies, industry associations, private companies and organizations like the League of Champions has helped to change that perception and now people actively seek my input.
Q. How do you promote safety outside of work?
A. As a volunteer member of the occupational health and safety management program advisory committee at Lambton College in Toronto, I am using my experience and knowledge to better prepare the safety professionals of tomorrow. Also, as a father of three young kids and a youth hockey coach, I try my best to make safety a habit for kids from a young age.
This Q&A originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of COS.