Workplace accident forces tradesperson into change of careers

Emily Kerr transitions from farming, fabrication into Occupational Health and Safety

Emily Kerr was working as a steel fabricator when, in the second year of her apprenticeship, she was involved in a workplace accident that rendered her unable to continue her career. This affected not only her career in fabrication, but also in dairy farming, where she had spent many years working.

But Emily kept a positive attitude.

“An accident that I thought crippled me ended up changing my life in the best way possible,” she said.

At the time, Emily was in her early 20s and at a crossroads. While she loved working in a trade, she knew she had to switch careers. While trying to figure out what to do next, she became interested in the field of health and safety. She did some research and found the University of Fredericton’s (UFred) Certificate in Health, Safety and Environmental Processes (CHSEP). She decided to register for the program and pursue a career in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS).

Having been out of school for some time, Emily’s main concern was her ability to study.

“My experience with the program was incredible. After engaging with the course instructors and my peers, my concerns were quickly eased. There was an endless amount of support, and the online format was very convenient,” she said.

Emily found the material interesting and relevant, and much of the course material correlated to real-life working environments.

“In particular, I found the courses on accident causation and investigation helpful and immediately useful in the field,” she said.

Emily says that as she expands her network within the health and safety industry, she has noticed a lack of women. Emily says she has always worked in a predominantly male environment and believes success in any career is unrelated to gender.

“Proper training and a solid work ethic will prove useful for men and women alike. I attribute my success and strong work ethic to the long hours working on the farm and in the shop,” she said.

Upon reflection, she believes that as a young woman, she may have faced more challenges.

“My father always taught me to let my work speak for itself, and I let it do just that,” Emily said.

Emily says she’s heard women express reluctance in regards to pursuing a career in this field due to fear of “telling people what to do,” she believes it’s important they understand women are not there to boss anyone around.

“We are the experts in safety. They are the experts in their field. Together, we will combine our knowledge to find practical and workable solutions that aid productivity and ensure we all go home safely at the end of the day,” she said.

But that’s easier said than done in many cases. Still, Emily’s positive attitude shines through.

“The right attitude coupled with persistence will produce success. I am lucky to be surrounded by safety professionals who have been willing to pour their knowledge into me. I try and soak up as much as I can.”

As far as gender issues go, Emily hopes more women enter the OHS profession.

“I can imagine some women may be intimidated by the fact that men outnumber women in this occupation. However, I sincerely hope that intimidation is fleeting,” she said.

Emily now works for AgSafeBC, a non-profit health and safety association that serves farms and ranches throughout the province.  She adds she is fortunate to have a female boss – UFred alumna Wendy Bennett.

“Despite having no experience in the safety field, Wendy hired me and has been an instrumental mentor as I navigate the early years of my career,” she said.

The best piece of advice Emily has for someone entering the profession is to network as much as possible.

“Ask as many questions as you can. Don’t rush your career – each challenge is an opportunity. Even after being heavily immersed in the industry for years, I am faced with challenging situations all the time. Often I don’t know the answer. I used to feel shame for not being able to provide an employer with an accurate answer on the spot. I have now come to realize challenges like this allow me an opportunity to do research and significantly contribute to my knowledge base.”

Emily says her UFred education opened the door to a world of opportunities.

“Before I started, I was terrified at the thought of changing careers. The support and knowledge that I received from UFred sparked newfound confidence and ultimately led me to a career that I am truly passionate about,” she added.

In the future, Emily intends to take the Diploma in Safety, Health, and Environmental Management program through UFred and then attaining her Certified Registered Safety Professional designation.