Mary O'Doherty, WIT
Mary O Doherty Health & Safety Officer at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), winner of the Health & Safety Excellence Awards for the Third Level Sector 2020.
Mary O Doherty has been Health & Safety Officer at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) since 2002. She graduated from WIT with a BA (Hons) in Recreation & Leisure and from National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) with a MSc (Hons) in Occupational Health & Ergonomics. She has 20+ years’ experience in health & safety management, safety leadership, risk management and policy development in large multi-campus organisations. She is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Safety & Health (IOSH) and committee member and treasurer of IOSH Ireland South East District since 2016. She was a recent winner of the Health & Safety Excellence Awards for the Third Level Sector and finalist of the Health & Safety Excellence Grand Prix category. She believes that health & safety is ultimately about people. Her “People First” approach is reflected in her leadership style and she believes that all workplaces need to undertake the journey from safety to wellbeing to ensure people can continue to be physically, mentally and emotionally well throughout their working lives.
Navigating Health & Safety during Covid-19 Pandemic
As COVID-19 spread across the world in early 2020, WIT along with every workplace faced an unprecedented challenge, one which would threaten the fundamentals of modern society and one which would take its toll on our physical, emotional and mental health. Most people did not feel safe being in the same room together and the social structures we depended upon as individuals and as an organisation vanished only to be replaced by isolation, fear and anxiety. The evolving situation was rapidly changing and we like so many others we embraced the complex challenges and risks it presented. As remote working, teaching and learning became the norm, exposure to different psychosocial risks emerged or were exacerbated largely due to blurring boundaries between personal lives and work. Managing the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students was more important than ever and through a collaborative approach we set about reinventing our processes, implementing the public health safety measures, providing psychological supports, reviewing work practices, redesigning and adopting engineering controls to improve ventilation, providing training, personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning and most importantly hand hygiene, social distancing and face coverings. Risk management and reduction was to the forefront of all our Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures.
On a personal level, one of the biggest challenges I encountered was trying to manage my own fears and worries about how the virus could adversely affect my family and loved ones while continuing to provide leadership, empathy, understanding and support on a professional level. Self-care and resilience strategies became fundamentals in my daily routine and were essential to balancing this personal/professional dichotomy. My support system of inspiring family members, friends and virtual coffee buddies remind me every day what’s truly important in life. We will all emerge from this pandemic stronger, more resilient and with a greater respect for the preciousness and unpredictability of life.