From aviation to hydro: Stephanie Benay’s electrifying journey to safety excellence
Health & Safety BC Hydro OH&S Professional of the Year OHS Honours Stephanie Benay
“Like a duck to water.” That’s how Stephanie Benay described her first steps into the realm of workplace health and safety.
More than 25 years ago, while working in the marketing department at Alberta Tourism, she got a call from a vice-president with Canadian Airlines, her former employer, with news that a new role had been created — and they wanted her to take it.
“They needed someone who had the ability to speak to people and resonate with people,” she said. The airline had just hired a flight safety expert and they wanted to complement her technical ability.
“I had never even given a thought to safety, but I loved aviation.”
Benay said yes, and it opened the door to an entirely different career path — one that led her to various organizations including stints at WorleyParsons and Cenovus Energy. This year, she was honoured with the Silver Award as OHS Professional of the Year at 2023 OHS Honours, an annual competition from the publishers of OHS Canada.
“It was risk management, and my first foray into it,” she said of the new role at Canadian Airlines. “I learned from the best in the world, and had conversations with amazing organizations — NASA, the Center for Disease Control, El Al Air, and Quantas.”
She went back to school to study OHS at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and found opportunity after opportunity to make a real difference in the well-being of workers.
Move to BC Hydro
Four years ago, she joined BC Hydro — recruited to go a little further west from her job in the oil and gas sector in Calgary. The decision to join a utility still makes her laugh a bit.
“I always chuckle. I tell people that when I was in safety school, I remember doing my electrical safety courses and thinking, ‘Why would anybody work in that industry? It’s unforgiving. Electricity is absolutely unforgiving,’” said Benay, who holds the title of director, safety at BC Hydro.
But the leadership team was convincing, and now she leads a team of more than a 100 professionals covering a wide array of disciplines from planning, analytics, incident management, safety programs, aircraft operations, human factors engineering, fire safety and field support to name a few. She provides support to Site C, the largest major project in Canada and has responsibility for managing public safety at over 19 recreation areas for the public around the company’s generating facilities.
“It’s exciting work. People are eager, and eager to learn,” she said. “I’m incredibly supported. My team is passionate and competent. I set the direction, and they help the organization get there.”
At BC Hydro, she has successfully developed a proactive five-year safety strategy that complements the company strategy, developed a safety management system and enhanced the organization’s incident management process to a best in class approach to incident learning, amongst other things.
“Her diligence and strategic planning have significantly enhanced our safety approach, our work culture, and our practices,” reads the nomination submitted on her behalf.
One of Benay’s most significant contributions was the development of a modern safety framework at BC Hydro, breaking down complex ISO systems into accessible, operational elements. This framework assigns clear roles and responsibilities across the company, ensuring that safety is a collective responsibility rather than confined to a single department.
She also spearheaded the invitation of regulators to the safety rodeo. This year, more than a dozen regulatory compliance officers and managers were invited to attend the internal event where electrical workers competed in various work simulation events to determine if they can represent BC Hydro at the 2023 International Safety Rodeo and Expo in Kansas.
The rodeos not only showcase the skills of power line technicians, but also serve as educational platforms for regulatory compliance officers, creating a proactive dialogue about safety practices. While bringing in compliance officers might sound daunting, Benay embraced the idea.
“We demonstrated to them how, from an engineering perspective, we set our workers up for success all the way through our safety management framework and field execution,” she said. “How we choose the tools, how we choose the PPE, , how we engineer the work, how we plan the work, how we apply the hierarchy of controls and importantly, how it’s all operationalized.”
BC Hydro invited 13 compliance officers out this year, a proactive move she said was designed to showcase how the organization handles hazardous work.
“We’re a complex organization, so let us show you everything that we do to keep our people safe. It’s on our terms, versus when a regulator would show up post-incident with a very specific agenda,” said Benay.
This strategy demonstrates Benay’s forward-thinking approach to regulatory challenges, transforming potential adversities into opportunities for collaboration and learning.
Beyond her professional achievements, Benay is particularly proud of her role in founding the Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society. Her dedication to supporting and mentoring women in the OHS field reflects her commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion within the industry.
“If you’re going to have a legacy, that’s a pretty good one,” she said. “I’ve been able to impact a number of professionals across the country and around the world.”
Benay’s recognition as the Silver Awardee for OHS Professional of the Year is not just a personal accolade but a celebration of her enduring impact on the field of occupational health and safety. The award, bestowed by a panel of esteemed peers, underscores her stature as an influential figure in OHS.
“It’s always an honor to be acknowledged by your peers,” Benay said. “It a huge honour for someone to say ‘We understand who she is. We’ve seen her at her best and her worst, and she still keeps hanging in there.”
Looking ahead, Benay’s vision for workplace safety is clear: integrate safety into work process, continuous improvement, collaborative efforts, and a culture that prioritizes proactive learning over reactive measures. Her leadership at BC Hydro, her contributions to the broader OHS community, and her role in empowering women in the field are shaping the future of workplace safety, making it more inclusive, effective, and resilient.