Safety professionals are agents of change, says industry expert

How an occupational disease early on in his career spurred this safety pro's interest in OHS profession

Safety professionals are agents of change, says industry expert

Early in his career, John Beckett worked for a company where he was exposed to chemicals, leading him to get adult onset asthma.

“It’s one of the drivers I have, people are often exposed to things that can hurt them without knowing it,” says Beckett.

The incident is one of the reasons why he became interested in workplace health and safety and while he was a director for a large union in B.C., Beckett picked up the organization’s health and safety portfolio.

“I grabbed it for a couple of reasons as I’m not one to stand by. I believe in giving back to the community that provides you with income and employment and […] I’ve always been a solutions-focused individual.”

But, he says, once he took on the health and safety portfolio he realized that he was lacking knowledge in a number of areas. Beckett, as a life-long learner, spent years doing various courses to help him improve his understanding of hygiene, safety and change leadership.

“All of that rounded out my view of technical health and safety and how to lead change, which I believe is really what the role of the health and safety professional is.”

Beckett views health and safety professionals as agents of change. It can be difficult for those in health and safety roles as they often don’t have authority to make change, so it’s about finding the right approach based on your audience.

Having been in the health and safety world for lots of years now, Beckett says that one of the most important parts of his role is engaging and supporting staff: “I need to be sure that they’re fully supported and engaged through the culture that we want to have here […] The thing that I really like about my job is developing strategies to create the changes required but doing it in a way that people feel listened to and supported.”

He says that he also enjoys transferring the information and the skills that he has developed to others. Beckett is currently the Vice President of Operations at the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and previously worked as the Association’s VP of Training, Safety and Recruitment.

Under his mandate as VP of Operations Beckett says that he covers safety because, “I think it’s in my genetics. I can’t get rid of it and I don’t want to because it’s just natural for me. And safety is frankly in everything we do anyway.”

The BCMEA provides extensive training services on heavy equipment, inventory control as well as training and consultancy on safety issues for workers than move the majority of the Canadian products and goods in and out of B.C.’s ports.

Beckett is also responsible for data analytics for the BCMEA:

“Data and safety has always been a key issue for ensuring that you put your energy in the highest risk areas that will potentially hurt people.”

As well as his role at the Association, Beckett is also involved in a number of other organizations.

“One of the things that I have very much enjoyed is being engaged at a local, national and international level to improve health and safety in the world of work,” he says.

Beckett was Chair of the B.C. Worker’s Compensation Board for a number of years and led some significant change processes within that organization. He is currently working with a number of organizations – notably as an NGO at International Maritime Organization and as a Governing Body representative of the International Labour Organization – and with federal government to effect change in the federal sector.

“Working on health and safety issues in the world of work around the globe [is] very satisfying and for me, it’s just a way to give back.”