Smith Business PhD student Alyssa Grocutt

Tragedy inspires PhD student’s research

When Alyssa Grocutt, MSc’21, was 11 years old, she lost her father in an industrial incident. Her father was a heavy-duty mechanic working in the oil sands industry in Fort McMurray, AB, and was caught under the tire of an industrial-size dump truck. 

Today, she is a PhD candidate at Smith School of Business doing research in workplace safety to help prevent other families and children from going through the same tragedy she experienced.

“I think my dad would be very proud,” says Grocutt. “I sometimes wonder what I'd be doing if he didn't die, because I don't think I would be in safety. But I know he'd be very interested in what I'm doing.”

Grocutt’s passion towards workplace safety began soon afterward. It started with giving a talk to her class, which she did mainly because she was feeling isolated and wanted to let her classmates know it was okay to talk about the incident with her. From ages 13 to 18, she worked with WorkSafeBC and would speak every April 28 on National Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.

She decided she wanted to do research and focus on workplace safety as a career while studying psychology at the University of Calgary. 
There are a lot of resources devoted to preventing workplace incidents, but Grocutt’s research focuses on the consequences of workplace injuries and fatalities on secondary victims (such as family members, co-workers, and leaders), a group often overlooked in safety discussions.

"I think they're a bit more of a forgotten group," she says. "I was planning some research on interviewing leaders, direct supervisors, and senior managers to really identify how they're impacted by workplace fatalities on the psychological and emotional side. Understanding their experiences helps us develop support services and resources to help them better cope with the tragedy.”

Her efforts are getting the attention of industry experts. In October, Grocutt received the Minerva Award for Rising Star of the Year by Canada’s Safest Employers Awards.

In the future, Grocutt hopes to have a career that bridges both academic research and industrial health and safety. She feels there is a gap between academia and industry, noting there is little point to having a groundbreaking workplace safety research study published in an academic journal if industry leaders don’t see it. 

“Even when I was 11 years old, I was saying I wanted to share my story, save a life, and prevent a family's despair,” Grocutt says. “I feel like I've done that. So, moving forward, I would like to continue to promote and improve safety in the ways that I can.”