Whitney Allen took an unlikely path toward becoming a role model in the field of health and safety
by Willow White
For Whitney Allen, every work-day looks different, but the goal is always the same: make sure every worker gets home safe and in good health.
“My whole purpose at the end of the day is to make sure that people aren’t experiencing any injury or tragedy at work that would prevent them from living their lives,” she says. “Work is just a way to pay for people’s lives, and I want to make sure they can get back to them.” And that’s just what Allen does in her role as the health, safety and environment manager for Standard Scaffold and Installation.
Allen has been with Standard for the past two-and-a-half years, but she has been in the health and safety field for almost a decade. She splits her time between the company’s sites and her office. She talks with crews and supervisors on different projects. She makes sure each employee is working in a safe environment. She develops new policies and procedures, and makes sure current ones are working as they should. “I am also the vice-chair for the Edmonton Regional Safety Committee,” says Allen. “And we have projects on the go that we’re working on, so that takes up some of my time during the day as well.”
Though being a health, safety and environment manager can be a downright stressful job, sending workers home safe at the end of the day makes it all worthwhile. “It is a very active and busy position because you’re always looking for continuous improvement,” she says. “How do we make things better? What needs to be changed? Are things working? Are we creating any barriers for our workforce?”
Allen grew up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, but completed her university education in Lethbridge. She didn’t always plan on working in health and safety; rather, she completed a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. “I had intended on going back to school,” she says. But she needed a job in the meantime and ended up in health and safety. “I was a medic on the rigs when I was in university. We were starting health and safety programs for some of the companies we were working with. So, after school, I already had some experience and it was just a natural progression for a job.” Allen wound up pursuing more education in the field, including getting her National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) designation and the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) certification. “There are other designations I can get,” says Allen. “But in Canada the CRSP is widely recognized.”
Though it’s not always easy to be a woman in a traditionally male job, Allen says things are shifting. “The industry has changed so much in the past years. The mentality that it wasn’t always open to women in the industry is changing a lot,” she says. “There is a more inclusive mentality in the industry now.”
Allen is eager to encourage women to work in health and safety, and in the construction industry as a whole. Though the industry remains male-dominated, Allen says things are increasingly balanced. “Health and safety, more so than general trades, has seen a significant increase in gender equality over the last number of years.” She encourages women to not be afraid to take on positions in the industry. “Of course, there will still be challenges,” she says. “But it is what we do about those challenges that matters.” Having taken up the challenge herself, Allen is confident that more women will continue to thrive in roles like hers.
Allen doesn’t necessarily see herself in the same job forever. “I’d like to get more into the operations side of things, and I do think that coming from a health and safety background is relevant to the operations side of the company,” she says. “Everything I’ve done this far is applicable to those positions.” And as a natural leader, there’s no doubt that Allen will go far.
What is a National Construction Safety Officer?
The National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) designation program started with the Alberta Construction Safety Association (ACSA) and is administered through local provincial safety associations across Canada. The NCSO designation indicates that the individual has knowledge in various construction-related health and safety management skills and principles, and at least three years’ experience in the construction field. When a person completes this program, they are ready to begin the career-long process of becoming a leader in construction safety, and joining our community of more than 13,000 NCSOs across the province. Your ACSA is dedicated to continuing to build this community of safety leaders. For more information about the NCSO program, visit youracsa.ca.