When our country was struck by the corona pandemic in mid-March 2020 and VITO switched to home working en masse, this started a unique period for the VITO support service Environment, Safety & Quality. Jan Deckx experienced it all from the first line as a prevention adviser. ‘We're at the service of all the employees, so they can do their job in a safe and healthy manner.’

You've been a prevention adviser since 2015. How does that role connect to your education as a chemistry graduate?

I've worked as a chemical lab assistant for various companies where there were strict guidelines in place around safety and prevention too, such as Umicore and Janssen Pharmaceutica. My education covered many safety aspects as well. What's more, I've always had a strong interest in safety. I got the diploma I needed to be a prevention adviser through retraining.

We can't get around corona. How was the lockdown for VITO?

VITO had a maximum focus on working from home. While most of the staff were advised to do this, our lab assistants stayed at their posts. For them, maximum efforts were made around maintaining a distance by physically spreading people and providing sufficient supply of disinfectants, so they could clean their own working environments. On top of that, extra rotation was adopted in the planning, so the lab assistants could work separately as far as possible and various tests weren't to take place at the same time, for example. That also meant there was no need to make it mandatory to wear face masks during that time.

What was the most thrilling moment for you?

The third phase of the exit strategy, whereby many staff would return physically to VITO, was prepared from early May. This was a thrilling moment, because as a prevention adviser I was among those brought in for the practical developments to make the site ‘coronaproof’ by 8 June. The rules for this had been established by the government, but it was our job to implement them in a pragmatic manner. In the run-up to 8 June, I was helping to make offices, meeting rooms and laboratories coronaproof by creating distances, providing enough disinfectant gel and designing and putting up posters and stickers. For us, this also came down to being able to react quickly, as the measures from the government were changing regularly.

What are your typical characteristics as a prevention adviser?

I have a very pragmatic mindset, but if I notice something could be done better or more efficiently, I go for it. Being able to convert theoretical rules into practice smoothly comes in handy in my job, and we're always trying to do that better in terms of safety and prevention too. We do this by running training courses, for example, providing prevention toolboxes and coaching colleagues. That's how we raise the level of the staff's safety culture.

That culture has seen strong growth in the past few years, up to a very high level. VITO meets various ISO standards, which demands far more effort from us than the legislation does. These standards require you to continually set new goals and achieve demonstrable improvements, so we're doing things a little better tomorrow than we are today. I like that style.

You are consulted by all the different VITO departments and units. That gives you a helicopter view of everything VITO's doing.

That variety of topics attracts me. We are in contact with every VITO unit: from research into sustainable energy, to health, to remote sensing. ‘We're at the service of all the employees, so everyone can do their job in a safe and healthy manner.’ We always follow the same prevention route in this, from the identification of small and large risks to the implementation of specific measures. During that exercise, we blend our prevention knowledge with often highly technical expertise from colleagues. That gives me a lot of satisfaction too, as I have a strong interest in technology.

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