Campbell River resident Jim Bassett recently retired after racking up 37 years injury-free — as a faller no less, in one of the most dangerous occupations there is.
Some might say Bassett beat the odds, but others would argue luck had little to do with it; that staying safe in the woods could only be attributed to unwavering discipline and a healthy dose of caution.
Bassett recalls spending every day of his working life, in fact, keenly aware of the risks of falling, and just as keenly planning for them. “Planning is the first step when a crew moves into an area: who’s doing what and where. Then you plan your own quarter (designated falling area), based on factors like the lean of the timber and how steep the slope is.”
In addition to company safety rules, Bassett says he also followed some crucial unwritten ones that his trainer taught him early in his falling career. “I had respect for that job and its dangers,” he says. “You have to know you can cut that tree safely, not just think you can. If I was at all in doubt, I’d get a second opinion and not feel bad about doing that. And if the weather was wrong, it was time to call it a day. I’d say to myself, ‘I can always work tomorrow.'”
Employees like Bassett who take responsibility for safety — theirs and others —help employers develop a safety culture. But one safety champion is never enough to meet an organization’s health and safety goals. And any number of WorkSafeBC prevention officers would also argue that simply having a written health and safety program in place can’t cultivate “a workplace full of Jim Bassetts,” either.
It takes leadership and commitment
WorkSafeBC occupational safety officer and Canadian Registered Safety Professional Dave Scott says a strong health and safety culture starts at the top. “Unless there’s a strong commitment from leadership and it’s throughout the organization, you won’t get buy-in from employees. And without that buy-in, you won’t be able to build a positive safety culture. Open communication is the key to success.
“It’s not just about legal obligations or cost savings; it’s about embedding safety in every aspect and level of the workplace.”
So, how can employers make that happen — and in a way that’s also going to benefit their businesses?
“Ideally,” Scott says, “we want an organization to be compliant with the (Occupational Health and Safety) Regulation. The Regulation sets a minimum standard for health and safety; compliant employers meet our requirements.
“But the quest for safety culture represents that next step: organizations that strive for a good safety culture actually move beyond compliance to having a safety mindset.”
That “safety mindset,” Scott maintains, means the organization places an equal emphasis on production as it does on health and safety. In such an organization, managers, supervisors, and employees share common values: they anticipate unsafe acts and conditions and correct them before harm is done; they’re actively engaged in injury and illness prevention; and, most of all, they’re free to take ownership of health and safety issues without censure. “Only then is safety truly embedded in the culture,” Scott says.
A step ahead of the hazards
Organizations that possess a “safety culture” offer a way of thinking and operating that can apply to any industry and any sized business, says prevention officer Scott (see Your safety culture in a snapshot).
Tara Black and Marion Scott, for instance, own the Victoria-based Origin Gluten-Free Bakery, where they are building a reputation for high-quality products — and for being proactive about health and safety.
“The core nature of our business,” Black says, “is to go beyond the norm, to think outside the box. We do that in every area of our business, including health and safety.”
On a day-to-day-basis at Origin, that thinking translates to comprehensive safety orientations, peer monitoring, a requirement for bakery employees to learn each other’s tasks during each shift and sign off on every piece of equipment, and a commitment to daily health and safety communications that include employee feedback. Most significantly, the two women are aggressive about injury prevention. “This is a very physical job with lots of standing, heavy lifting, and small, repetitive movements,” Black says. “We have a comprehensive benefits program and we encourage our employees to use it: ‘Get that massage therapy or other treatment that will keep your body tuned and less vulnerable to injury.'”
And, if a piece of equipment is contributing to risk with no feasible alternative available, Black and Scott simply invent one. In fact, they are currently working with Applied Technology students from nearby Camosun College to develop an affordable machine that automatically dispenses cookie batter onto trays in the right size and shape. The goal is to eliminate the need for the repetitive scooping motion that puts employees at risk of tendinitis and other chronic musculoskeletal conditions.
Black and Scott are pondering the provision of funds to take the invention from college prototype to industry prototype. “This has industry-wide implications,” Black says. “It will have a dramatic impact on employees, especially those in smaller bakeries like ours, which can’t afford the $10,000-$150,000 investment in automation that the bigger bakeries can.”
Safety alongside production
With regard to the health and safety of his employees, Mike Honeyman, a Kimberley resident and current owner of Honeyman Morris, recalls once being as well-intentioned as Tara Black and Marion Scott. But he learned the hard way that protecting employees from harm takes more than checking off all the minimum requirements of the Regulation.
In 2008, when he was part-owner of Cranbrook-based power line company Arrow Installations, Honeyman took on the task of developing an occupational health and safety program. For more than a year, he says, he spent most of his time holed up in his office writing a company health and safety manual that ticked all the boxes in terms of its legal requirements.
Not long after the manual was finished, on a cold, rainy Thursday in November 2009, Mike Rousselle, one of the company’s power line technicians, was changing a fuse on a transformer when he was hit by 14,000 volts of electricity. As a result of his injuries, Rousselle eventually lost an arm and a leg. (See Rousselle’s story on the Safety is Personal video on worksafebc.com.)
“The manual was good, but it didn’t matter one bit,” Honeyman says in recalling that fateful day. “It wasn’t translated into something real for the people I was supposed to be keeping safe. I meant well, but I had no clue what it took for my employees to do their jobs — and to protect them from harm.”
Today, Honeyman says his approach to health and safety has changed 180 degrees. “If I could do it all again, I’d have made sure my employees knew that their health and safety was the most important thing. If they had to stop work and regroup to be safe, then so be it. I’d have talked with them about their jobs and gotten their input on what they needed to be safe. And I would have made sure safety was top of mind, even when things were running smoothly.”
Yes, there’s a cost to building and maintaining a culture of safety, Honeyman says. But it’s minimal compared to the financial costs of injuries — not to mention the immeasurable social and emotional burden for injured workers, their families, and the communities they live in. (See Safety culture tool soon available).
“Take it from me,” Honeyman says: “Even if your company’s turning a good profit; if your workers aren’t safe, you have nothing.”
By Helena Bryan. Reprinted with the permission of WorkSafe Magazine, WorkSafeBC.
Short and sweet. That’s how WorkSafeBC Industry and Labour Services’ employer consultant Michael Paine describes a new eight-question safety culture survey just being introduced to employers in B.C.
The survey has been adapted from one created by the Institute of Work and Health in Ontario and used with employers there. It was proven to be a useful tool, Paine says: particularly for employers who want an initial snapshot of their safety culture to use as a benchmark against other employers in their industry.
“It’s just one tool of many. But what’s great about it is that — while it’s easy and quick to complete — it provides a meaningful assessment of employees’ perceptions of the health and safety culture in which they work.”
Employee perceptions are important, because they’re likely different from those of the employer. “The survey allows leadership to open up a conversation around crucial safety practices, like making ongoing safety improvements, involving employees in decisions affecting health and safety, and providing the tools and equipment for working safely.”
Paine says WorkSafeBC is working with four B.C. employers using the survey to analyze safety culture. “We’ll be expanding this project further as we learn how it influences each employer’s subsequent prevention activities.”
A new WorkSafeBC safety culture assessment tool will soon enable employers to delve deeply into their safety management practices and discover how to improve them. It will tell them how proactive they’ve been in managing safety to date, offering the kind of insights they can use to integrate injury and illness prevention into every aspect of their businesses. Employers will be able to use this assessment as a road map, so they’ll know what direction to take throughout the process of developing a strong safety culture.
So far, says WorkSafeBC employer consultants Adrian Cook and John Fraser, an initial pilot project introducing a few major B.C. employers to the new rapid safety culture assessment tool has been garnering rave reviews from industry; some have already begun making changes.
Two years in the making, the proprietary tool measures how proactive a business is being toward safety across 14 dimensions. It incorporates principles of “active safety management,” concepts of safety culture, and safety activities that generate cyclical improvement. Its 14 areas of measurement include, for example, safety finance, employee participation, operational safety, leadership and commitment, inspections and investigations, measurement and evaluation, and recover-at-work programs. Such a holistic analysis then enables the organization to determine how proactive it’s being with safety, the current state of its safety culture, and how well it’s working toward continual safety improvements.
“‘Safety culture’ is an overused and misunderstood term,” Fraser says. “Our rapid assessment tool allows an organization to get an objective measure of its safety culture.”
An organization’s willingness to anticipate health and safety concerns and put prevention plans in place before a problem occurs provide the truest reflection of safety culture, Cook says. “Proactivity is a leading indicator of safety culture.”
While the analysis is in-depth, the tool provides companies with an easy-to-read, at-a-glance visual scorecard to tell them just how enterprising they’re being in keeping employees healthy and safe at work, and most of all, in striving to develop a good safety culture.
Testing of the rapid safety culture assessment tool will continue into the first half of 2016, with the intention of eventually providing a self-serve resource that organizations can easily access online.
Cultivating a culture of safety means setting the right example. An organization needs to be transparent about the importance of safety, be proactive with safety, and engage its employees in all aspects of safety, including planning, implementation, and day-to-day activities. As a workplace leader, here are a few ways you can demonstrate to your employees that you’re walking that talk, says Adrian Cook and John Fraser, employer consultants for WorkSafeBC’s Industry and Labour Services:
- Regularly visit your worksite or worksites to champion the safety agenda.
- Set clear expectations and encourage accountability.
- Measure safety activities.
- Promote the investigation of near misses.
- Train and invest in all areas of safety.
- Be open and honest about safety issues.
- Strive to continually improve safety performance.
- Have an annual safety plan.