By developing a comprehensive Return to Work program for its workers, Fairmont Chateau Whistler has helped to enhance its status as an employer of choice in the highly competitive resort community.
In June 2012, the hotel achieved its Certificate of Recognition (COR) for both its Safety Management System (SMS) and its Injury Management/Return to Work program (RTW). Gabrielle Stauber, Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s health & safety coordinator for the past nine years, says there were several fundamental reasons for implementing the RTW program. “The well-being of our employees was No 1. They’re our colleagues, and a lot of them are young adults away from home for the first time. Someone who hurts themselves needs our support during their recovery,” she says. “The second reason is that guest service and productivity are maintained, because if you have absentees due to injury, you have understaffing, overtime and additional training to replace the employee. Third, there are reduced costs through WorkSafeBC.”
The Fairmont chain has for many years had a detailed health and safety manual with a specific return-to-work section, and this served as Stauber’s base line when the decision was taken by management to seek COR certification for its programs. One of her first steps was to chair a meeting of the Health & Safety Committee and all department heads to create a list of alternate and modified duties, complete with a physical-demands list for each job. “Alternate work is outside the person’s department, and modified work is in their own department,” she explains. The result was a roster of meaningful jobs that an injured employee could perform during the process of recuperation without having to leave the workplace entirely.
Already, says Stauber, the program, which can be graduated to accommodate shifts of varying lengths and the number of days on the job per week, has helped employees discover unexpected new career opportunities. “We’ve had people injure themselves in the kitchen who felt that a career change was necessary in light of their injury. During the RTW program, a worker was positioned into HR. Once the program was complete, that worker applied for an opening in HR and was successful. Some find they like the alternate department and pursue a career change.”
To fine-tune the RTW program and prepare for the external audit, Stauber sought advice both outside the company and within. “I contacted go2HR, which is an excellent resource,” says Stauber, who also consulted a mentor, Michael King, the manager of safety and loss prevention at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, which had achieved COR certification in November 2011. “The challenge for the COR audit is understanding the full expectation of the auditor. Michael King shared resources that worked for Fairmont Waterfront.” Stauber applied and modified these programs with the result that the Fairmont Chateau Whistler scored a remarkable 99 per cent on its RTW COR.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler had low injury loss rates to begin with, so Stauber says it’s too soon to assess statistically the outcome of COR certification. But she does believe that the process of working toward COR had an overall beneficial impact on staff morale and behaviour. “After the COR audit, people are more aware of the Return to Work and modified duties program, and they’re more confident with the system. Improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re definitely looking to reduce lost-time injury rate in the year to come.”