Alan Quilley: A legacy of transformation, humour and challenging status quo
Health & Safety OHS Canada Hall of Fame OHS Honours
Alan Quilley, a best-selling author, consultant, and speaker in the realm of occupational health and safety (OH&S), has been posthumously inducted into the OHS Canada Hall of Fame as part of its 2023 induction class.
With a career spanning four decades, Quilley was a unique voice in the safety sector who combined real-world experience with an engaging presentation style.
Quilley’s journey began in 1976 when he took on the role of a safety coordinator at CN Rail. Over the years, he ascended through increasingly senior positions in OHS, giving him invaluable hands-on experience. This allowed him to actively participate in the development and delivery of programs at the University of Alberta and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
His impact reverberated across a multitude of industries, including oil, gas, petrochemicals, emergency services, construction, and municipalities. His approach was pragmatic and hands-on, working not just with C-level executives but also with hourly workers, emphasizing that safety is a collective responsibility.
Quilley made a significant academic contribution as well, distilling his decades of experience into multiple books. His first, “The Emperor Has No Hard Hat: Achieving REAL Workplace Safety Results,” received an Honourable Mention among the Globe & Mail’s top ten business books of 2006. He developed the concept of an Integrated Safety Management System (ISMS), a versatile set of principles adaptable to various organizational contexts.
Reaction from the safety community
OHS Canada put a call out for memories of Quilley and was flooded with responses. Here is a sampling of the feedback that came pouring in — it is impossible to publish all of them.
Marlys Wilson, a former student of Quilley, recounts her journey to becoming a Certified Registered Safety Professional (CRSP), emphasizing the pivotal role Al played in her ultimate success.
After failing the CRSP exam twice, Marlys sought personalized virtual coaching with Al during the pandemic, changing her study approach from self-learning to guided mentorship.
“The way that Al taught me and focused on what I needed to learn, very quickly made me confident that I would pass my final attempt at the exam. He made safety seem so… effortless,” she said.
Nathalie Vega lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic, but found a lifeline in a mentorship program by WOHSS and was paired with Alan.
Together, they focused on career transition from the Oil and Gas industry to educational institutions, inspired by Vega’s family background in education.
Alan’s mentorship was critical in her landing a job at the University of Calgary. Despite grappling with health issues, Alan was dedicated to the mentee’s success.
”We kept texting and one day he told me he was losing his battle with cancer, and that he was very sad because he was not going to see me flourish,” she said.
“I just had Alan in my life for a few months but the impact he made in my life will last forever.”
Dave Rebbitt said Alan was “underappreciated” in his time.
“He was always up for a discussion and always curious — a key attribute,” he said. “We always found time for an animated discussion when we ran across each other.”
Patrick Delaney said Alan “challenged the accepted OHS orthodoxies and backed up his positions with facts and everyday examples. He delivered h is courses with energy, enthusiasm and humour.”
Denise Howatt treasures her copy of his book, The Emperor Has No Hardhat, and lends it to others — “As long as they promise to return it. Alan inspired many of us to challenge the status quo, ask different questions and be better OHS professionals.”
Jodi Flatt recounted the best advice she has ever received in her career, which came from Alan. “If your employer doesn’t value safety, what are you doing there?” That was a “real wake up moment for me and a former employer.”
Karin Godwin said that when she needed encouragement, Alan was “like having your own personal cheerleading squad.”
And Michael Mansfield said Alan had “excellent stories, better attitude and great humour.”
“More fun than a barrel of monkeys when he got on a roll.
The later years
In later years, Quilley focused on educational programs. He bought the copyright to a CRSP Examination Preparation course in 2006, elevating it into an industry standard. He was proactive in adapting to new certifications and requirements, such as the BCRSP’s launch of the CRST certification and its mandate for an Ethics course within a five-year Continuing Professional Development (CPD) cycle.
His philanthropic pursuits extended to writing articles for various safety publications and platforms, including LinkedIn and WordPress, while also mentoring aspiring safety professionals.
Before his passing in early 2021, Quilley was able to revise and create new content for the CRSP 2020 Blueprint study material, his final chapter to a lifetime devoted to enhancing workplace safety. His wife, Marie, now helms the company, continuing his substantial legacy.