If there ever were household names in the Canadian health and safety profession, one of them would be ‘Eldeen Pozniak.’ Last year, that name made it to the American Society of Safety Engineers’ 100 Women Making a Difference in Safety.
The ASSE’s 100 Women Project — launched to commemorate ASSE’s 100th anniversary — is an international search for women making a difference in the promotion of workplace health and safety.Highly respected within the health and safety community, Pozniak’s achievements as an international safety consultant come from a deeply rooted passion influenced by past experiences.
“I started out treating and educating injured workers and I thought to myself, somebody needs to be doing something about this more proactively,” says Pozniak. “Because the more I talked to injured people, the more I was realizing how their life was affected...and I wanted to do something that made a difference.”
This resolve solidified after a fatal workplace incident that took the life of her own father a few years ago.
“So I thought, if I can prevent one of those (accidents) in my lifetime, then that’s what I want,” she says. “That is my goal in life, if I can affect people’s lives in such a way that they would never have to go through that.”
As an only child growing up on a Saskatchewan farm surrounded by male influencers — her father, grandfather and two great uncles — Pozniak’s childhood was virtually a training ground for her future career in what was then a male-dominated health and safety profession.
The industries she worked in — construction, mining, manufacturing and forestry — were considered unconventional for women to be in. But that didn’t discourage Pozniak from pursuing her passion in health and safety. In fact, it served as a challenge that she so confidently took on.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman in the safety profession,” she explains. “My philosophy is you need to be the best darn safety person that you can possibly be.”
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a bachelor of science in physical therapy, Pozniak went on to become one of the most admired and sought-after health and safety practitioners, not only in Canada but globally.
Working in different countries has been both educational and humbling for Pozniak. It opened her eyes to the various cultures in different parts of the world — some of them far from that which she has been accustomed to in Canada.
“When you work in different countries and you work with different cultures… gender roles, cultural definitions and even religious beliefs can affect how they interact with you and what you can even do within the work environment,” she says.
For example, in the United Arab Emirates and some areas in the Middle East, women cannot work in high-hazard areas. This means that, as a health and safety consultant, Pozniak cannot be on the construction or mining sites. Instead, her job is with senior leadership trying to influence decision makers around health and safety practices within the organization.
Recognizing the differences in cultures across the world and trying to adapt and work within those cultural norms and belief systems are key in having a successful career as an international safety consultant, Pozniak says.
“Cultures and corporate climates are all different, so you really have to see how you fit in: Where is your role? How do you change your communication style? How do you get the information across? Sometimes, even how you dress (will matter) to ensure that you get done what you need to get done.”
Pozniak credits her positive outlook and determination to the mentors she’s had through the years. Being around really good influencers throughout her career has helped develop the confident safety leader she is today.
It’s a continuous learning process, she says, and there are always teaching moments that never fail to give her new perspective and inspire her to improve on her craft. There have been times in her professional life when the teacher becomes the student, as she realizes that, sometimes, as she educates workers about health and safety, she learns something from them as well.
“When you make a mistake, being able to go back and say, ‘I wasn’t right, I’ve learned something,’ I think, have been defining moments in how I deal with health and safety in the work environment,” Pozniak says.
Throughout her career, Pozniak has been actively involved in various safety associations around the world, including the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, the ASSE and the Industrial Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations.
She is also a recipient of numerous achievement awards, including the Saskatchewan Safety Professional of the Year, the YWCA Women of Excellence and the Athena Award.
Despite her accomplishments in the field of health and safety, Pozniak feels she still needs to do more — both for the health and safety profession as a whole, and her personal growth.
“My role with the CSSE, I don’t feel is finished,” she says. “I want to leave a mark on transportability of the safety professional around the globe.”
Armed with her experience on the international front, Pozniak wants to work with the various safety associations to “raise the bar of the profession” and promote the global competitiveness of Canadian safety professionals.
Her message to women in the safety field: “Focus on professional and personal principles and ethics. Don’t let anyone tell you what you will succeed in or be good at or enjoy working at; the choice is ultimately ours. You need to know what is your personal philosophy in life, what you are inspired by, what you are passionate about, how you are guided — and that is what we have to build our career on. That determines our path.”