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05 18 2020

Meet Alison Woodland, Health and Safety Manager at the NCI Agency

(Updated 9 June 2021)

As a former Health and Safety Inspector in her native United Kingdom, Alison Woodland investigated and prosecuted serious workplace accidents. This experience taught her the value of taking preventative measures as many of the devastating accidents she investigated could have been prevented if simple protective measures had been followed.

Now the Health and Safety Manager at the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) in Brussels, Belgium, Woodland is engaged in improving health and safety awareness of hazards and risks.

Meet Alison Woodland, Health and Safety Manager at the NCI Agency

With a majority of Agency staff working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodland has implemented and provided her advice on workplace control measures, supported consistent policies across 28 locations in Europe and North America and made sure everyone is properly informed.

For her efforts and dedication protecting staff health, Woodland recently received NATO's highest honour, the Meritorious Service Medal.

We asked Woodland a few questions.

What did you do as a Health and Safety Inspector in the United Kingdom?

I inspected and advised workplaces and investigated work accidents causing injuries or fatalities, interviewed witnesses, collected and held evidence, prepared criminal cases and prosecuted them in the first level of criminal courts.

Why did you decide to apply for a role at NATO?

I've always wanted to work in an international environment and after moving to Brussels in 2001 and working in the private and public sector, notably at the European Commission and British Embassy, I applied for a role at the Agency.

What do you do as the NCI Agency's Health and Safety Manager?

I carry out a number of tasks related to health and safety; from writing policies and advising senior management to creating a health and safety risk register, visiting and auditing Agency sites, providing training, managing budgets, sourcing equipment, and coordinating first aid.

What was one of the first things you did when you came to the Agency?

When the Agency was created from the merger of five entities in 2012, there was a need to establish an overarching Health and Safety function. So when I joined in 2016, I had to perform an audit and assess our deficiencies. One of the biggest challenges was managing the health and safety of more than 3,000 staff members across 28 different locations. I had a lot of support from our General Manager, which enabled me to deliver various things, ranging from first aid equipment and training, to projects such as providing safer access. In 2019, I was happy to welcome a second full-time Health and Safety Advisor, who is based in Mons, Belgium. And two more colleagues are contributing to the cause on top of their primary job in The Hague, Netherlands and Oeiras, Portugal. This means we now have a Health and Safety Coordinator in all the four main Agency campuses.

What are your most recent achievements?

Our biggest achievements during the coronavirus pandemic were to develop a tracking system for every staff member who tested positive, showed symptoms of the virus, was in close contact with an infected person or travelled from a red zone. This has allowed us to monitor the situation very closely and provide our management with information for more effective decision-making. We also developed Health and Safety Rules of Engagement, detailing a hierarchical set of control measures for the organisation, linked to a comprehensive location return to office plan, which covered all staff carrying out essential work in site as well as planning for the return of other staff to the office.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work?

Immensely. At the very beginning of the outbreak, I was the only point of contact for all pandemic-related issues and responding to concerned colleagues was a priority. Once the Agency established its COVID-19 Coordination Group and formed its Crisis Management Task Force, we started to deal with issues on a day-to-day basis. We have put in place unprecedented measures to protect our staff, both on and off site in a complex operating environment, and this has been a source of great satisfaction.

Why is your work important?

Employers show they value their staff by taking necessary and practical measures to protect them. This in turn ensures that people feel appreciated, protected, boosts morale, enhances reputation, reduces financial liabilities and sets a standard for others. Good health and safety management is simply good management.