CSSE president wants to raise profile of safety profession

President's career has been 'one big preparation' for leadership position

Raising the profile of the health and safety profession will be one of the priorities Andrew Cooper will take on as president of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), the national organization for health and safety professionals with more than 4,500 members.

Assuming his new role as CSSE president last fall, Cooper hopes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors in taking the association — and the safety profession — to new heights.

“We really have to start thinking about what the (safety) profession is going to look like 10, 20 years from now,” says Cooper. “How does the CSSE support that profession, and how do we make that happen?”

The CSSE has done a “very good job” at building sustainability within the organization and the profession, says Cooper. As president, he will continue to engage the safety professionals in meaningful ways, he says.

Based in Edmonton, Cooper is the security, health and safety advisor for the faculty of medicine and dentistry, and the department of environment, health and safety at the University of Alberta. He is also a subject matter expert and instructor at the university’s occupational health and safety certificate program.

Despite his multiple tasks at his day job, Cooper says he always finds time for his volunteer work at the CSSE. It helps that the university has been supportive of the work he does at the association.

“It’s about setting priorities and what you choose for your career,” Cooper says.

A 23-year veteran OHS practitioner, Cooper has been an active volunteer at the CSSE since the early days of his career — starting out as a member of the CSSE’s London district chapter in London, Ont.

Looking back, he acknowledges his entire career has been one big preparation for the role he would take on as leader of the country’s biggest organization for health and safety practitioners.

Cooper is a graduate of Lambton College’s industrial hygiene technology program in Sarnia, Ont. But like many safety professionals, Cooper’s interest in OHS was an acquired taste.

As a child, he didn’t exactly dream of a career in occupational health and safety. But, now that he’s all grown up, he can’t imagine doing anything else.

Learning on the job

As a fresh graduate of industrial hygiene technology in 1989, Cooper landed a job at the City of London, where he says he received great training and exposure to many aspects of health and safety management, including construction, transportation, health care and emergency services.

“Over a period of 11 years, I got to be involved in quite a lot of different types of work, different challenges, and work with regulators and work with unions,” Cooper says.

Working in a municipality was a “terrific education” and helped prepare him for the succeeding chapters of his career. After more than a decade of working in the city government, he decided it was time for a new challenge.  

The Industrial Accident Prevention Association’s (IAPA)Western Ontario division in London, Ont., provided a fresh perspective on OHS for Cooper. Being a volunteer co-ordinator, and eventually a health and safety consultant for the IAPA, allowed Cooper to develop other “soft skills” that would later prove beneficial to his career development.

“IAPA helped me become a better trainer, better facilitator, a better consultant and a better health and safety professional,” says Cooper. 

His career opportunities — and his personal circumstances — eventually brought Cooper to Alberta, where his wife was pursuing her PhD in psychology, and a job opportunity from Acklands-Grainger was waiting for him.

As the national health and safety manager for Acklands-Grainger — a distributor of industrial, safety and fastener products — Cooper realized the important relationship between safety and business.

“Not many health and safety folks see the sales side of health and safety... Being able to learn that and learn how health and safety has competitive advantage from a sales perspective, it really gave me a new viewpoint on sales and its impact on health and safety,” says Cooper.

OHS influence

Through the years Cooper was gaining valuable experience as an OHS professional, he was also continuously giving back to his community through his volunteer work at the CSSE.

“What I find is that the great contributors to our health and safety community are those folks that are extremely busy, but always have time for more,” says Cooper.

He describes the “shining examples” of a health and safety professional as “those people who realize that their profession also includes their work in support of their employer and their work in support of the professional community in which they work.”

This is particularly true for health and safety practitioners because of the significant influence they can have not only to the growth of a business, but to the lives of their workers as well, he says.

Safety professionals are not often recognized for the work that they do in any organization, he says. That is perhaps due to the way safety has traditionally been measured — through lost-time injuries, injury frequency and severity, workplace accidents and fatalities. Unfortunately, Cooper says, those are measurements of failures, not successes.

“We measure our failures,” he says. “We don’t measure our successes. How often does a health and safety practitioner ask themselves, ‘How many lives have I saved? How many work lives have I made better as a result of the expertise that I have provided in the workplace, the training I have done?’”

If there is one thing Cooper has learned in all his years as a safety professional, it is that their profession does make a huge difference in the organization, in workers’ lives, their families and the community.

“Over a period of many years you start to see the results of some of the individual conversations (you’ve) had with people… some of the influence that you had. You just look back and go, ‘I never thought at the beginning it would have this impact on someone,’” says Cooper.

Through the CSSE, Cooper hopes to help change this and encourages fellow safety professionals to start measuring “what we are actively doing to help folks, to help organizations.”

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