Supervisors play a crucial role in providing a safe and healthy workplace. According to a study by Pennsylvania State University, the key to making this happen is fostering a strong, positive interpersonal relationship between supervisors and workers.
Myra Churchman is a housekeeping supervisor at Billy Barker Casino Hotel in Quesnel, where she doesn’t just watch her four housekeepers clean and refresh the 39 guest rooms. She works alongside them. “I see myself as a role model, which means I have to be able to walk the walk,” she says. “It doesn’t work to just tell somebody what they have to do. So we work as a team, and we look out for each other.” Housekeeping duties come with a range of risks, she explains, including “handling wet and dirty laundry, lifting mattresses that seem to get thicker every year, and using chemicals for all kinds of cleaning.”
For Churchman, supervising for safety in an efficient and effective manner is a combination of being familiar with the tasks at hand, understanding the hazards and risks, and knowing the people who are performing them. “When you know your co-workers, you know when they’re not themselves. You can be aware and pick up on clues.” Case in point: During the summer heat wave in 2013, she noticed an unusual degree of fatigue and tension affecting her team in the sweltering hotel laundry. Churchman promptly went and did some reading on the WorkSafeBC website. “I found something online in the regulations about dehydration. I thought, ‘Wow, I think these guys just aren’t drinking enough water.’ I printed it out and brought it in and said, ‘I think this is what’s going on.’ That’s an example of an informal way to supervise for safety.”
At Grouse Mountain Resort in North Vancouver, Andrew Bethel oversees the safe performance of some 250 staff, divided between the Snow School in winter and Mountain Adventures in summer. With positions ranging from ski instructor to zipline guides, there are numerous skill sets to understand. For Bethel, that means “creating standard operating procedures, doing safety checks and inspections, making sure all the reporting is done, and should something arise, being able to ensure that changes are put in place quickly and effectively.”
Like Churchman, Bethel supports the value of strong interpersonal relationships and teamwork. “You can post a safety document and say ‘Read this,’ which still needs to be done, but getting out there and speaking to people is crucial,” he says. “Supervisors can’t know every aspect of every job they may be supervising. Talking to staff about problems that exist or problems that could exist is crucial. You have to get out there and build trust and rapport with your staff.”
For Bethel, giving feedback is a vital component of supervising for safety, because failure to do so undermines the entire health and safety program. “We encourage people to bring everything forward, and we follow up with them to find out if it has been resolved or needs more work. If someone brings something to you and you don’t follow up with them, they think, ‘Why did I bother reporting this?’ We want to make sure we get back to them and say we’re working on it, or we’ve spoken to experts, or whatever the answer is.”
Both supervisors are enthusiastic advocates of WorkSafeBC’s complimentary, online Supervising for Safety course, which employs nine user-friendly, adult learning-oriented and interactive modules to provide training, information and resources. “I have always been hands-on and like learning best practices and new tips,” says Bethel, “but this opened my eyes to safety in a larger scope. I completed the course, got the certificate and then went back and reviewed specific modules.” Churchman says she found that taking the course works as a tonic against on-the-job complacency. “It’s human nature to slide,” she says. “You get involved in your own little issues, and the course brought my attention back to the whole health and safety issue. I think it would be good to take it as a refresher maybe every six months or something like that. There is so much there, you can’t remember everything the first time. Taking it every so often would be good because repetition equals retention.”
To learn more about this free online safety training, visit www.supervisingforsafety.com.