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Alyssa Grocutt was 11 years old when her father suffered a fatal workplace safety incident. Over time, this incident has given Alyssa the passion, purpose, and drive toward a meaningful career in bringing awareness to the topic of workplace safety and safety incidents. In this heartfelt episode, Alyssa shares the true impact workplace injuries and fatalities have on family members, friends, coworkers, and leaders. Tune in to listen to her story and learn how organizations and leaders can provide enduring support to secondary victims of workplace safety incidents.
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously, have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m excited to have with me, Alyssa Grocutt. She’s a PhD student at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, and she’s doing a lot of work and research around workplace safety. Passionate advocate about workplace safety. Alyssa, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Eric. Yeah, it’s great to be on. Thanks for having me.
Absolutely. So, I’d love to hear about your story and how you got your passion around safety because I saw you posting and being very active and a strong advocate of safety. That’s where I got interested and wanted to hear better about your story. So, why don’t we start there?
Yeah, for sure. So, it all goes back to 2008. I was eleven years old, and it was July 8, 2008, around 05:00, p.m. There was a knock on the door. Being eleven, I ran over all excited to answer the door. And I was shocked to find a police officer standing there with two other individuals. And they were there to inform my mom and myself that my dad had been fatally injured in a workplace safety instant that day. Yeah, it’s not fun. It’s been tough, but it’s really given me this drive towards safety, this passion and a purpose with my life and my career. So, I am thankful for what it has given me in that sense.
Absolutely. You started at a very young age doing presentations to classes, to schools, and you made it a mission to drive a difference on such an important topic. Tell me a little bit about how that came to life, and then we’ll get into some of the research that you’re doing soon.
Yeah, for sure. So, being so young, it was hard to connect with my peers, having my dad pass away in a workplace safety incident. So, I started with just trying to get a conversation going. I found it really helpful to talk about the whole situation and what happened to me. I found that was a great way to cope. And so, I started giving presentations in grade six. It just started out as kind of, hey, this is what happened to me. We can talk about it. But then from grade seven through to grade twelve, I would go around on the National Day of Mourning, April 28, the day to honor workers who have been injured, killed, or have become ill from work. And I really used that day to go around to different classes and give presentations on the importance of safety. And it seems to be received quite a positive feedback from teachers. And so, I had teachers sign up for me to come in on that day. And it was just really nice to have that to talk to people, especially because young workers can be at risk not receiving as much safety training.
And so, it’s definitely good to get that message out to young people. And I think the personal story has a different impact than just teachers telling you that you need to be safe.
Right. And I think it’s a really important point because a lot of people graduate, start work, and they’ve never even heard of the topic of safety, and they don’t even really understand the concept. I know even when I recruit for roles and I talk about safety, people start assuming, oh, it must be like policing and security and things like that. I’m like it’s about workplace safety, making sure people come home to their loved ones.
Yes. It’s something that we don’t talk about enough, I think, especially for young workers, because even in high school, some people are getting jobs at fast food chains, even retail. And there’s hazards with all of that that people need to be aware of and aware of their rights. So, I think it’s really important.
Absolutely. So, you’ve gone on your now doing a Ph.D. Tell me a little bit about the study and the work that you’ve been doing around safety because you’ve taken a different lens than most of the other research out there.
Yeah, definitely. So, most of the research that’s out there on workplace safety looks at the causes of safety incidents, work injuries. And this is all in an effort to prevent such occurrences, which, of course, is important. We want to be Proactive. We don’t want these things to happen, but they do still happen. And so, I’ve really been interested in taking my own experience. So, what we say in research is doing research. So, I’m taking my own experience and researching it. So, I’m really interested in the consequences of just safety incidents in general and work injuries and even fatalities, although it’s a little bit harder to do research on that just lower base rate. But definitely, yes, it’s an overall positive thing, not so much for doing research on it, but happy that there’s fewer fatalities out there. But I’m really interested in the consequences of these occurrences and how it affects not just, say injured workers, but their family, their friends, their co-workers, people in positions of leadership at the organization. I think these are all important groups of people that we don’t really know from our research standpoint, how they’re affected.
So, tell me a little bit about some of the things that you’ve uncovered so far, because I know we’ve had several guests here that have talked about this anecdotally talking about coworkers that may be witnessed an injury and maybe never were able to return back to work or first responders that knew the person who was injured and as well never could return back to the workplace. So, we’ve heard about the impact on leaders, on families and really heart wrenching stories around it. What are you seeing from some of the early themes of the work you’ve done?
Yeah, I’d say a lot of work that has been done by others has looked at negative consequences, which of course, there’s going to be negative consequences. We know financial hardships for families and mental health for children of injured workers. Children have been shown to experience worse mental health outcomes, medication use, depression, just subjective reports on how they’re feeling generally. And based on my experience, I was really interested in can there be positive outcomes? Because I think there’s obviously going to be an immediate negative impact, especially on mental health. But in the long teams, I know that I’ve taken my experience and turned it into a positive in my life and something that really drives me towards a meaningful career. And so, what I found with my master’s research is I was looking at children of injured workers. So, when a parent was injured at work while their children were growing up, how that impacted the children into young adulthood. And I actually found there can be positive outcomes. So, children, although there’s a psychological impact, like a distressing feeling based on the work injury, children can take that and learn and grow and develop something we call post traumatic growth.
And then even subsequently, it can lead to work outcomes, like greater chances of occupying a leadership position. So that’s kind of what I’m diving more into now and trying to figure out how this all happens. And really what about safety specific leadership is what I’m interested in right now. Does this experience contribute to engaging in more safety specific leader behaviors when you’re in a position of leadership?
And I think I’ve definitely seen that in organizations where a leader and it’s not consistent, but a leader experiences a fatality in the workplace at different levels within the organization, and it shocks them and creates an incredible call to action. I’ve worked with CEOs who said, never again on my watch do I ever want to have to go see another family or attend a funeral. And then they drove the organization through change tremendous activity to make sure that that was a resulting effort. So that can definitely be a positive silver lining, I guess would be the right way to position it in terms of really driving a call to action, which is good part in some organizations, it doesn’t happen. It just becomes short term blip it doesn’t necessarily drive to long term sustainable outcomes. So great that you’re looking a little bit more into that leadership side of the equation as well. What are some of the things that you’ve seen from families but also workplace colleagues in terms of things to consider for a leader, really, because the impact of a workplace fatality or serious injury can be substantial and really has a significant impact on a larger community.
What are some of the takeaways that we can share with some of the listeners around this?
Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things that I’ve been talking about with my supervisor because we want to get more into the leadership side of things and how leaders can lead through these safety incidents and what they can do after them. And one of the things we’ve been talking about is we prepare leaders for difficult conversations. And a lot of the time this can be just, hey, your performance wasn’t so great in the last quarter, not necessarily talking to subordinates’ followers. What have you about a fatality or an injury or even having to tell family members, because some leaders are put in the position to tell family members? And I think this is something that nobody wants to experience. And we often have this, oh, it’s not going to happen to me thought, but it can happen. So, one of the things that I think is important is while it’s not fun, but considering what if this did happen, reflecting on that, trying to be prepared. So, if you do have to be in that difficult situation, you have a plan, you have some ideas. And I think one of the important things that we don’t talk about much too is that leaders are human beings, and we often put them on this pedestal of knowing what to do, how to do it.
And they’re supposed to be composed all the time through all this. And yeah, to some extent they need to be they’re in that position for a reason. But also, we’re all human. And we also need to consider how leaders can be psychologically impacted, emotionally, mentally, and making sure that there’s supports in place for leaders and coworkers, too, because I think a lot of the time the thought is on family and it’s not always a long-term thought, like in the short term, people are supported, but these things can have such lasting impacts. I know that more anecdotally than from the research, but that’s something I want to look into more is how long do we need to be supporting people for?
And I think that’s something that’s important because a lot of organizational have a good initial response plan if that happens. But your point around leadership preparedness for an event like this, even if we hope that it will never happen, I think most organizations are probably willfully unprepared for it. And really knowing who goes to say what to whom and how do you actually have that conversation? Because it’s not in the repertoire of the CEO’s conversation starters. Very few organizations would have established protocols. Some might have an established protocol, but even then, doesn’t mean that the person is even prepared.
What am I to say?
Yes, and I think that it’s a big task, but how leaders engage with family members after can really make or break a family’s experience of a fatality or simply an injury, too. I know that the organization my dad worked for everyone was so amazing and so supportive following his death, and the support really helped. And I think that it definitely helps me get to where I am today, and I’m so thankful for that. And I don’t think necessarily anyone had prepared for that to happen. But the way that they dealt with it was definitely great.
What would be some of the characteristics of an organization that deals with it the right way? What are some of the elements that we should see in that initial response?
Definitely. So, I think one of the big things that I appreciated was that they communicated with us a lot. The leaders were in contact with my mom personally, and they also didn’t try to seem all put together all the time. They showed that they were emotional about it. And I think that just helps to show that we’re not just another number. I know when I was a kid, I never wanted to be forgotten. I wanted people to always remember that there was a family that was left behind. And it was clear from the response that we were never going to be forgotten about. And they actively engaged in conversations with us. And so, my dad worked in the oil Sands in Northern Alberta, and when we had to go pick up his stuff, they gave us tours of where he worked. And it was just so nice to be able to see that. My dad was so happy where he was at in his career when he died. And so, it was so meaningful for me to be able to see what made him so happy. And it was just those things that it was pretty simple for them in terms of staying in touch with us, showing that they are human, too and are impacted emotionally and providing us with an opportunity to see what our loved one loves before they die.
And I think that vulnerability is definitely something that I’ve seen is consistently an important theme is to show your human to recognize it because it’s tough and even for the person who’s delivering the messages. One executive I was speaking to, and he shares his story about when early on in his career, he was on a young supervisor, and somebody had passed away on their shift. And he was tasked with having to go speak to the family. And he recalls and he says it was the longest walk that basically getting from the car to the house. And he can recall step by step in slow motion, the emotions, the difficulty, and everything he went through. But again, that became a catalyst for him to say, hey, never again. This cannot happen at least for him, it became a positive drive to saying, what do I need to do, even in a very dangerous space, dangerous industry, to make sure that doesn’t need to happen?
Definitely. And I think it can be hard to find that positivity and all of it. But if you can, it can be so meaningful, and you can have such a huge impact on how things are dealt with moving forward if you try to turn it into that positive outlook.
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Absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that, because it’s a very difficult topic to explore, but it’s an important one because until the day we get to completely stop and eradicate serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace, there’s also the element of how does an organization prepare and how do they show up in the right way. Have you explored as well as the impact on coworkers and how do you respond from an organizational standpoint? Because often what I hear is will bring EAP is there some best practices around the response for peers who knew the person as well?
Yeah, that’s a great question and something I want to explore further. I haven’t yet that’s on my list. I’ve been focusing on the family lately, but getting into my Ph.D. dissertation work, which I’ll probably be getting more into in the fall, I want to look into some of these things. I know that anecdotally with my dad’s experience. Like one of the co-workers in a video said, every night I go to bed, I think of Kevin, my dad, and every morning I wake up, I think of him, and that always gives me chills. I can’t imagine being there. And I would love to know more of how organizations can support coworkers because I think obviously you want to move on and get back to production sooner. But again, getting back to that, we’re all human, and I think there’s definitely things out there that could be done better in a lot of situations. So, I will have more on that hopefully in the next few years.
And maybe we’ll bring you back to share a little bit more on some of the findings on that front. Is there something as well that should be considered in terms of supporting leaders? Because you’ve talked about as well how leaders are still people, they’re still humans. And how do we support them through something like this? Because there are different leaders that maybe even saw things in some cases. I’ve talked to leaders who will then regret that they never said something when something wrong happened, and they just walked by and then they could never get past it.
Yeah. And I think starting this discussion is the first thing that needs to be done, because even just in research in general on leaders, we don’t know much about leaders’ mental health, and there’s a stigma behind it, which is some research being done, actually, by one of my colleagues here at Smith School of Business. She’s really interested in the stigma behind leaders’ mental health, and I think that goes hand in hand with these supporting leaders following safety incidents and even fatalities. And I think starting the conversation and allowing leaders to be vulnerable is the first step, because it’s one thing to have supports in place, but allowing leaders to know that they can use them and there’s not going to be negative repercussions because we can have all these different policies, practices, and procedures in place for people. But the first thing is that they need to know that they exist. And another thing is that they need to feel that it’s okay for them to access those resources. And I think that goes with a lot of the taboo topics in the workplace. And I think being emotional is one of those. And mental health, and I think there’s starting to be more of a conversation out there, and there’s mental health supports, but people still aren’t necessarily feeling comfortable accessing those.
And I think even especially in some of these industries that we’re talking about that have more injuries and fatalities, there is more of that stigma associated with it more of a tough front. So, yeah, I think talking about it first and foremost and having resources, but making sure people are able to access those and feel okay, too. And that is something I really want to dive into, though, with my dissertation work. I’m hoping to interview leaders and see get out all the good and the bad. What has been done well, what hasn’t? And I want to really Home in on some actionable steps that organizations can take, and those leaders can take to work through all of this.
It’s an interesting point because a lot of organizations talk about making sure the support resources are there for the workers there, but not necessarily check in in terms of the leaders as well, in terms of their emotional wellbeing. And as you said, we know from a fact standpoint that some of these industries have a significantly greater exposure to some of the mental health challenges, particularly if there’s fly in, fly out operations or even traveling construction type work tends to be very prone to higher risks in that regard. And that’s not just the front-line team member. It’s also different leaders that could be exposed to the same and trying to balance being tough, being responsible, and being a leader with their own wellbeing. So, I think that’s a very important point as well.
Definitely. It’s so tough for leaders. I think they’re left behind in a lot of this. I think we’re getting more into that. We need to support employees with different resources, but leaders are still lacking. In that sense, I’d say.
I appreciate a lot of the work, the research you’re doing, because it’s a topic we don’t hear a lot about. It very important to obviously understand. How do you prevent injuries? How do you look at leadership to support prevention of serious injuries and fatalities? Very important to drive the momentum to bring it to C-suite. But there’s also the effect of sometimes an event happens and how is it that you address it? How do you show up as a caring organization? That case provides support. You talked about also making sure it’s enduring. It’s not just for the week, for the day. It becomes a sustained effort recognizing that people have a lot to go through an event like this. Multiple stakeholders have to deal with it. I appreciate that you’re incredibly active as well in the community advocating for safety. I saw you on multiple channels sharing the message that I think is incredibly important. Thank you so much for sharing all these insights. Thank you for your passion and dedication and making a difference in so many workplaces for advocating around it from a very young age in terms of speaking in schools, I think it’s incredibly important. So, you’ve got, as I understand a website and blogs are coming out and also, you’re active in social media. How can somebody connect with you if they’re interested in furthering the dialogue?
Yeah, for sure. So, I have my LinkedIn which I post on probably the most frequently. I also have a Twitter and everything’s just Alyssa Grocutt and I recently started a website which I list all my experience and my research publications as they come out. And my biggest thing on there that I am doing is a blog so I’m still determining how frequently I’m posting. But I am planning on doing little summaries of safety research that has been done in my field just to get it out there. I think there’s a bit of a well, I know there’s a gap between academics and practitioners and I want to kind of bridge that gap with this blog by creating short like five-minute reads of summaries of the academic research that has been going on in the safety field. So, I would welcome anyone that’s interested to check that out. I hope to be posting there more frequently. Right now, I have two summaries up so there will be more in the future and as I do the research on the consequences, I will be doing summaries on that.
Excellent. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story for advocating and hopefully we’ll get you back on the show once you finish this next piece of research. I think there should be some interesting findings as well.
Yes, definitely. I would love to come back and thank you so much for having me. This has been a great conversation like what we do.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Alyssa Grocutt’s passion for workplace safety started after her father’s tragic death in a workplace safety incident when she was 11 years old. Alyssa’s father’s death was a profound learning and developmental experience, and in time became a challenge to turn life’s negative experiences into personal inspirations. For Alyssa, this is evident in her dedication to promoting workplace safety through research, and presentations to schools and organizations on workplace safety, and her personal commitment to workplace safety since her father’s death.
Alyssa began researching workplace safety during her undergraduate degree, a BSc in Psychology (First Class Honours) from the University of Calgary. During her studies, Alyssa worked with Dr. Nick Turner on workplace safety research. For her MSc degree with her current supervisor Dr. Julian Barling, she shifted her focus to the secondary victims of workplace injuries, and examined how children of injured workers are affected by their parents’ work injury.
Alyssa is now a doctoral student in Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada, and is the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship. Her current research focuses on the impact of workplace injuries and fatalities on secondary victims who are often overlooked after workplace injuries and fatalities, such as family members, peers, and managers of people injured or killed at work.
Alyssa actively promotes workplace safety on social media. Alyssa also has a website that tells her story, and provides access to her research. Most importantly, it includes her blog, on which she regularly summarizes some of the most interesting and important research on workplace safety.
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