Health and safety leader ready to pass the torch

Over his nearly 35 years at EHS, Joseph Vincelli has contributed to instilling a safety culture at McGill
Joseph Vincelli has worked at McGill for 40 years

If he hadn’t been laid off from his first job, Joseph Vincelli might never have ended up at McGill. Vincelli had been working as a biologist at a pulp and paper company in the Saguenay region. When the company restructured its operations and he found himself out of a job, he came back to Montreal, where he was from.

“I went to the unemployment office and saw on the bulletin board that the Royal Victoria Hospital was looking for a chief technician and administrator at the Department of Surgery. I went for an interview that afternoon and got the job,” recalls Vincelli, now Associate Director at Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). “So, in the end, I didn’t have to file for unemployment insurance.”

And that’s how Vincelli’s 40-year career in the McGill network began. A few years later, he was hired at McGill by Wayne Wood, head of what was then called the Environmental Safety Office.

When he hired him, Wood encouraged Vincelli to pursue graduate studies.

“During the day I worked as an Occupational Hygiene and Radiation Safety Officer and in the afternoons, I was doing my master’s in occupational health sciences at McGill,” explains Vincelli. “It was the best recipe – I could apply at work, in the field, what I was learning in school.”

Enduring partnership

Wood and Vincelli would go on working together until Wood retired in 2019.

“Of the many joys of working at McGill, working with Joe was one of them,” says Wood. “He’s always been a true loyal colleague. We had this great relationship where we could always run things by each other, discuss problems and challenges, chew on them, get back to each other and agree on strategies.”

And there sure was a lot to do. Together they created safety programs and training on everything from radiation, biosafety, and chemical safety, to laser, construction, and ergonomics. “I was never bored, there was always something new for me to do,” says Vincelli. “That’s what has kept me at McGill.”

They also had to bring the University out of what Wood refers to as “the Age of Secrecy,” when it was not always easy to get researchers to divulge what they working on – let alone with what.

“It has changed a lot,” says Vincelli. “When we started the office, people didn’t really care [about workplace risks and hazards]. We had to educate them.”

Respected and appreciated

Over the years, Vincelli has particularly enjoyed training and dealing with the different types of audiences found at a university, from facilities employees to principal investigators. The appreciation is mutual.

“Over the years I have worked with Joe in his evolving capacities dealing with chemical, radiation, and laser safety, and managed to throw up challenges in all three areas,” says Prof. Dominic Ryan, Department of Physics. “At every turn, when faced with my latest plan to explore some less-than-safe regime, Joe’s response was never ‘you cannot do that.’ It was always a refreshing and encouraging: ‘let’s see how we can do this safely.’ His willingness to work with me rather than just lay down the law, actively encouraged me to seek his help knowing that I would not be shut down.”

Though the EHS unit has quadrupled in size since its original staff of four or five people, the work around health and safety at a research university is infinite. And as much as he has enjoyed his time at McGill, Vincelli is now ready to start thinking about the “next chapter” of his life and take on his “very long bucket list.”



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