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Meet Shirley, occupational hygiene officer

Published on: February 16, 2022

A career with a difference

At WorkSafeBC, workplace health and safety is at the core of what we do. This means that education, consultation, and enforcement are vital and ongoing responsibilities in building healthy and safe workplaces.

We sat down with Shirley, an occupational hygiene officer (OHO), to learn more about her experience at WorkSafeBC and how she makes a difference in the lives of workers and employers in British Columbia.

What attracted you to apply at WorkSafeBC?

After completing my university studies in occupational and environmental hygiene at UBC, I worked in a consultant role as a mediator between employers and WorkSafeBC occupational health and safety officers. In that role, I learned about what an OHO does and how they can make positive changes in workplaces by prioritizing the health and safety of workers. That is something I’m passionate about, so when I saw the posting I jumped at the opportunity.

What’s something that impressed you when you joined the team?

I was impressed by how forward-thinking our organization is and how we continue to look for ways to improve our services to workers and employers. I very much appreciate the strong leadership on our prevention team — we are always striving to be the best and pivoting when necessary, which has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with a dedicated team of health and safety professionals encourages me to find new opportunities to innovate and provides the needed support to create positive health and safety outcomes.

I also appreciate how knowledgeable and experienced my fellow officers are. I can ask them anything and they are happy to share their knowledge.

How do you make a difference to workers and employers every day?

In my role, it comes down to three critical pieces: education, consultation, and enforcement.

I support employers and workers with how they can make changes to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. I do this by educating them on how to recognize, evaluate and control risks and then consult with them about how to apply changes to their workplace. We take a data-driven approach in developing trends and insights to mitigate risk and help reduce injury and disease. To ensure compliance with the regulations, sometimes I also need to use our enforcement tools.

I’ve found that when we show employers and workers that we care and educate them on how to reduce risks and apply changes to their workplace, it helps them to understand why the changes are important and take ownership of their workplace health and safety. Even if the changes are small, they can make a big difference.

What’s a typical day like for you?

As an OHO, I research issues, inspect workplaces, and write reports that explain the actions needed to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. Once I deliver a report to the workplace, we discuss the changes that need to be made to comply with the regulations. In addition to our planned inspections, we also respond to workplace questions and issues coming from callers to the Prevention Information Line.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed my typical day a bit because during the height of it, we were unable to conduct in-person inspections, but after quickly updating our internal COVID-19 Safety Plan, we resumed in-person inspections.

Have you had any memorable projects?

One memorable project involved a carbon monoxide issue. This was a challenging project because it involved conflict between groups, and also a lot of complexity around both the risk and the applicable regulations. I was grateful to have my manager’s support and guidance to understand the issues and achieve a positive outcome.

What advice would you share with potential OHO candidates?

The job is a combination of science and service, and you have the opportunity to make a difference everyday with both workers and employers. It also helps to have some previous industry work experience in a particular field, so you have compassion and understanding towards the employers and workers who you’re working with.

To learn more about upcoming opportunities in prevention, visit our careers page.

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