Chris Back

B. Sc. (Kinesiology), 2001.

Current Position: Manager, Industry & Labour Services at WorkSafeBC in Richmond, BC.

What are your work responsibilities?

I manage a team of Industry Specialists in the Manufacturing and Retail sectors. Essentially, I am responsible for the development and implementation of programs and services that promote the prevention of injury and illness and the safe return to work of workers within these sectors. Our team works very closely with health and safety associations and other industry associations to disseminate, educate, and promote resources and tools to industry employers and workers.

How did you become interested in your field?

I first became interested in this field through the co-op program at SFU during my undergraduate degree. My intentions were to complete my Kinesiology degree and move onto medicine, with a specialty in sports medicine. I realized about mid-way through the Kin program that I did not want to pursue medicine, and used the co-op program to explore other interests. I did five co-op terms, including two co-op terms in ergonomics; one at ErgoRisk and the other here at WorkSafeBC. I was hooked! Since then, I have had a passion for injury and illness prevention.

What led you to this position?

Having done an eight-month co-op term at WorkSafeBC at the end of my Kin degree, I knew it was an organization I would enjoy working for. WorkSafeBC is an excellent employer with many great lifestyle benefits, such as an on-sight gym, various fitness programs/classes, and numerous extracurricular activities to join. After my co-op term it took me 13 years to get back, with no regrets along the way. I had opportunities to work for a Health & Safety Association, a public transportation company, a large Healthcare employer, and one of the Healthcare Unions; all in various leadership roles within the scope of occupational health and safety (OHS). I believe this provided me with varied perspectives in the field of OHS and set me up well to excel in my current position.

What do you enjoy most about your current career position?

I get to do what I love every day – leadership in the field of OHS. I work with excellent and very skilled people, who give me an opportunity to continuously learn. I work for a top employer. And most importantly, I get to maintain an effective work-life balance so that I can spend good quality time with my family.

What have been the biggest challenges in your career?

Losing two positions that I thoroughly enjoyed! I worked for the Occupational Health & Safety Agency for Healthcare (OHSAH) in BC from 2003 to 2010. I started as an Ergonomist and quickly moved into a Manager role in 2004 and then a Director role in 2007. I was very passionate about OHSAH’s mandate and felt the work we were doing had a positive impact on OHS in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, the funding for OHSAH ended in 2010 and the organization had to close its doors. That was probably the toughest point in my career so far.

The second was with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) in 2013. I had been with VCH for three years as the Manager of WorkAbility and had essentially re-created their disability management team into an effective, high functioning team. I was very proud of what the team accomplished in helping employees return to work after injury or illness. Due to significant structural changes in 2013, however, I had to leave the organization. Again, this was a difficult moment in my career.

What were the keys to your success in overcoming these challenges?

Staying positive and confident in my skills and abilities. Leaning on the support network I had grown over the years. Knowing that these bumps in my career were not a result of poor work that I had done; they were changes that were out of my control. Believing that things happen for a reason and that the “right” job is just around the corner (which it was).

Why did you choose Simon Fraser University and BPK to pursue your education?

You’re testing my memory! I believe it went something like this… As with every other high school student, I completed those job match tests in grades 11 and 12. Kinesiology and Medicine came up for me. I didn’t know what Kinesiology was! I researched it further, thought it seemed really cool, so I applied. I was fortunate to receive an entrance scholarship to SFU, which likely finalized my decision. On a side-note, my plan was always to go down to the US to play baseball. I think I made the right decision.

What were the major challenges that you faced during your studies at SFU and BPK?

I think they were likely the same as what most students face; the class schedule, trying to balance a social life with studying, and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my career. I also had a long commute every day (at least 1 hour each way), which impacted my social life and studies; but hey, I got to live at home for free, so I shouldn’t complain!

How did your education at SFU and BPK influence your career?

It was a HUGE influence, as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure I would have developed a passion for ergonomics and health & safety had it not been for the Kinesiology program and more specifically, the co-op program at SFU.

What is your favorite memory from your time at the university and the department?

The great people and personalities that I met and still connect with. I met two of my good friends during my Kin degree; and professionally, I still regularly network with past instructors, program staff, and classmates.

Who do you think made a difference at SFU or BPK, or who do you remember the most from the department?

Craig Asmundson – my first taste of Kinesiology (Kin 142)

Glen Tibbits – I really enjoyed his classes and his teaching style

Anne-Kristina Arnold – helped to solidify my passion for ergonomics

Barb Peachey & Darleen Bemister – five co-op terms; the most valuable experience of my undergraduate degree; that’s all that needs to be said!

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

Professionally, I am really proud of three things. First, the eight years at OHSAH, where I grew my career and established my skills, both in OHS and leadership. Second, the completion of my MBA in 2009 while working full time at OHSAH (probably the most sleep-deprived two years of my life – at least until I had kids). And third, the 25 member WorkAbility team that I turned around and rebuilt at Vancouver Coastal Health.

Personally, I am most proud of my family. I have a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters. I could not imagine life without them. They make everything worth it!

What advice would you give to current students at BPK?

Try not to go into your undergrad degree with a pre-conceived notion of what you will get out of it. Be open-minded and explore the various disciplines in kinesiology. Take a class that you wouldn’t normally take or attend a function that you wouldn’t normally attend. You may find a new career path that you didn’t know existed.

Use your time at SFU to create friendships, both professionally and personally. You will be amazed how those friendships will help you throughout your career and life. Get to know your professors; particularly in the classes you enjoy the most.

And take advantage of the co-op program! There is no better way to transfer your knowledge and skills into practice and build the experience that employers will look for once you graduate. Do at least three terms and try different disciplines. You never know what you will find yourself attracted to.

What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

Spending time with my family and being outdoors and active as much as possible. I also still find time to play baseball and hockey, two team sports I hope to never give up.