Volunteer & Family Member, Threads of Life
Trish Penny works in corporate health and safety at Black & McDonald. She’s a member and volunteer of Threads of Life — Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support. Trish’s older brother Luke died when a wall collapsed and he was crushed while working in a trench. He had just started a new job weather proofing buildings.
What inspired you to enter a career in health and safety?
It wasn’t until Luke’s passing that I even considered a role in health and safety. I began taking courses when we started court proceedings, as a personal venture to understand a little more about things we may hear during the trial. Once I started the courses it became evident that this was something I could do long-term.
Thinking back on some previous jobs, I couldn’t recall any emphasis on worker safety. I felt like it was a gap, and that I could come in with enthusiasm, passion, and a personal understanding to fill that gap.
What was your planned career before this?
I had gone to school to be a hairstylist. I’d been working in a local salon when I started taking my occupational health and safety courses.
What’s your personal philosophy of health and safety?
I would say that my personal safety philosophy is to make sure it’s relevant. Developing and implementing safety processes that can integrate into operations is very much the goal. I feel like this is achieved by actively listening to the workers, and ensuring that they have input in the development of programs. Collaboration is essential.
I feel like this is achieved by actively listening to the workers, and ensuring that they have input in the development of programs. Collaboration is essential.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
I’ve been in a corporate health and safety role for almost three years now. This means much less field time or visits to project sites. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home during the pandemic.
We do have many employees who do essential work. They’ve been continuing to work in various roles, and truly deserve recognition for the work they’ve done throughout the past year.
What has shifted for me, personally, is the need for continual updates as new information becomes available. Laws, standards, and requirements in health and safety do change frequently, but the data from COVID-19 (be it recommendations for masking or facial coverings or occupancy requirements) seems to change hourly. It’s been a pretty fast-paced year, just making sure we’re on top of all the latest information.
Where would you say you are today in your own grief journey?
To be honest, I have to say I’m in a state of limbo at the moment.
It’s been almost 11 years since Luke passed away. There have been so many milestones since then that he has missed, and those hurt the most.
I’m currently five months out from my own wedding and the grief of him not being there for that is huge. But, most days I’m good. I have mostly happy memories.
I can’t say it gets easier, but you just learn your emotions and triggers and kind of prepare for it.
What did Luke’s death teach you (good or bad) about workplace safety?
- New and young workers are so vulnerable. They don’t know what they don’t know, and even the most confident person may be hesitant to ask questions or request clarification. Employers need to understand that gap and take necessary steps to fill that gap. Ongoing coaching and mentorship go a long way.
- The value of building relationships is imperative to ensuring safety in workplaces. People need to feel like they can speak to their health and safety team without fear of reprisal.
- Supervisors need to understand what their role entails. The role greatly increases your responsibilities when it comes to health and safety. It’s important to understand that what you tell people, how you coach them, how you lead them, and what you allow or don’t allow will translate in how they’ll work. It’s an integral position within any organization.
How did you first learn about Threads of Life?
An ex-girlfriend of Luke’s reached out to us about a year after he passed away. She had found Steps for Life (an annual fundraising and awareness event) and thought we may be interested in starting a team and doing the walk. We were able to gather a small group and raise some money (much more than I thought we could!). The walk put us in contact with Threads of Life, and that fall we attended our first forum.
What value do you feel Threads of Life offers for a health and safety professional?
Hearing the stories that Threads of Life members share definitely reinforces the reason why I work in safety. Those true stories are the fundamental reason why I do what I do, and you don’t have to have my personal experience with tragedy to feel that commitment. No one should go to work and come home injured, or not come home at all.