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May 18 2020

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

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 Health and Safety Manager at the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency in Brussels, Belgium, Woodland is focused on implementing strict measures to protect staff.

During this coronavirus pandemic, when the majority of Agency staff is working from home, she is monitoring the situation and making sure everyone is properly informed and advised.

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

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

I inspected workplaces and investigated work accidents, interviewed witnesses, collected and held evidence, prepared criminal cases and prosecuted them in the first level of criminal courts called Magistrate Courts. If the case was more serious, for example a fatality, it was referred to a higher court – the Crown Court. There I would not present the case, however, I would still prepare it and support the prosecuting barrister.

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 do a variety 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. I produced a three-year-plan of what needed to be done in order to meet adequate standards. One of the biggest challenges was managing the health and safety of more than 3,100 staff members across 30 different locations or so. I had a lot of support from our General Manager, who allocated me a budget that allowed me to deliver first aid equipment, training and other small projects. Last year, 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 on every main Agency campus.

What are your most recent achievements?

Our biggest achievement during the coronavirus pandemic was developing a tracking system where we document every staff member who tested positive, or who had to self-isolate, showed symptoms of the virus, or was in contact with an infected person. This has allowed us to monitor the situation very closely.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work?

For me, the workload has probably doubled at least. At the 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 Covid-19 Coordination Group and our Crisis Management Task Force were formed, we started to deal with issues on a more day-to-day basis.

How did you deal with the initial stress of working from home? Do you have any advice for teleworkers?

Working from home has been easier than expected. We are lucky to have enough space where my husband and I can work and our son can do his schoolwork. Your workstation needs to be as comfortable as possible, it is good to keep a regular schedule, eat well, drink lots of water, and try to follow the news in an intelligent and not negative way. It is difficult to switch off when your work laptop is constantly in sight. I find mindfulness and meditation help me to relax.

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 valued, boosts morale, enhances reputation, reduces financial liabilities and sets a standard for others. Good health and safety management is simply good management.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I love talking to people, going to sites, and providing training. It gives me huge satisfaction when attendees at a first aid course say they have gained confidence to save a life.