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‘Why I work safe’

Chief risk officer says a strong safety culture is everyone's responsibility

Campus and Community

By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Transitioning to a new job during a pandemic is not exactly straightforward.

Greg McDougall, Memorial’s chief risk officer (CRO) began in his new role in July after moving across the country from Alberta.

The Gazette recently interviewed Mr. McDougall to check in on his transition and hear why safety is all of our responsibility, even more so in the time of COVID-19.

SWF: Tell us about moving to the province and settling into your job during a pandemic.

GM: At the start of the pandemic, no one was sure how long it would last, and at first, I thought I could possibly wait it out. As the situation developed, the world quickly realized the pandemic was going to continue into the foreseeable future.

There were challenges with trying to find a place to live and figuring out how to get to Newfoundland, so eventually I decided the best option was to drive out here and then fully move later.

So, after driving 6,800 kilometres and one ferry trip in seven days, I finally arrived and started settling in.

During the job interview process, I stressed how much I value relationships and working with individuals.

COVID-19 has presented us an opportunity to re-evaluate how we do work, but it also makes it harder to connect with individuals and it takes more thought just to say hello or to introduce yourself.

SWF: Tell me a bit about your background.

GM: Like most risk managers, I didn’t set out to be a risk manager. I had worked in the adventure tourism industry in Western Canada as a guide in the mountains and was drawn to mountain search and rescue and climbing.

I then went to Gaspé, Que., where I taught in an adventure tourism program, including courses in risk management. I then had an opportunity to go back out West, when I was offered a risk management job dealing with student safety and off-campus activities for the Calgary Board of Education.

At that point, I ended up enrolling in a master’s program at Royal Roads University in environmental management with a focus on climate change and resiliency.

Greg McDougall says safety culture is “really looking out for yourself and others and realizing your responsibilities and rights.”
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

I ended up working as the director of risk management at Mount Royal University and then on to the City of Calgary as an emergency manager for the water utility.

Education and the public sector have always been incredibly important to me and it is something I strongly believe in.

SWF: What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

GM: Getting to know everyone and to look at how we can build a stronger culture of risk.

We need to take risks to be innovative and we have to ensure that individuals know what risks the university wants to take.

The only way to do this is by working with everyone and trying to build on that culture.

SWF: In your perspective, why is it important for everyone to play a role in health and safety at the university?

GM: Safety culture is not just a cliché, but it is really looking out for yourself and others and realizing your responsibilities and rights.

“A strong safety culture is about praising individuals who come forward with concerns.”

It is also the ability to say “I am not comfortable with that” or “I don’t think you should do it that way” and start that conversation. Everyone has a role to play.

A strong safety culture is about praising individuals who come forward with concerns, always listening to them and thanking someone when they point out something that they don’t feel right about.

The first safety job I ever worked at we had a board to post pictures on of “Why I Work Safe.” Everyone would post pictures of spouses, other workers, children, family and pets.

Those are really the reasons we need to have a strong safety culture.

SWF: What is your vision for the Office of the Chief Risk Officer (OCRO)?

GM: The OCRO is first and foremost a support and service unit to the university.

I see our departments working together to collaboratively engage with the campus community to continue to evolve and improve health and safety at Memorial.

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