George Gritziotis will be the first person to take on the role of Ontario’s chief prevention officer, a job created following a review of the province’s occupational health and safety prevention and enforcement system led by Ontario’s former cabinet secretary and University of Toronto professor Tony Dean.
Gritziotis, a founding executive director of the Construction Sector Council, will be responsible for developing a provincial occupational health and safety strategy, co-ordinating and aligning Ontario’s workplace health and safety prevention system and providing advice on the prevention of workplace injuries and occupational diseases.
Canadian HR Reporter spoke to Gritziotis earlier this month before he officially started in his new position.
CHRR: Why did you take the job?
Gritziotis: Looking at my background, working in the construction industry, safety and prevention is top-of-mind. And when this opportunity came around, it allows me to take a lot of what I’ve learned and a lot of the things I’m passionate about within construction, which is to ensure anybody who goes to work is going to go back home.
In many ways, working in construction, because it’s top-of-mind, it’s something that’s embedded in everything we do. This allows me to work in a bigger cross-sectoral environment and to continue to push for the importance of a health and safety workplace environment for everybody.
CHRR: What are your priorities?
Gritziotis: Just at a high level when it comes to health and safety... everything’s a priority and everything should be about zero tolerance. That benchmark is very easy for me and that’s something we should always strive for — zero tolerance when you’re looking at issues around injuries or fatalities.
But in the first few weeks, I’ll be spending time with the prevention council and I’ll be meeting with many of the health and safety partners and a lot of the stakeholders.
Essentially, I’m going to be meeting with the prevention community across Ontario and I’ll be focusing a lot on the expert panel’s recommendations, the Tony Dean report and looking at many of the key recommendations in there.
A lot of them are what I would consider sort of strategic, related to aligning the prevention activities across Ontario, and some are a bit more grassroots, when we’re looking at developing mandatory basic awareness training.
CHRR: Why do you think zero tolerance is important?
Gritziotis: Because if that’s the benchmark, we’ll always be working towards it. Always. This is too big an issue to consider anything less and it’s too important an issue… it transcends our personal lives and our professional lives.
CHRR: What are the challenges of taking on a new position like this one?
Gritziotis: Well, it’s building the relationships and bringing a diverse stakeholder group together. When I talk about the prevention community or prevention stakeholders, it’s not just the people that deliver the programs, it’s also the recipients of these programs.
You referred to challenges, I am going to say opportunities — one of the big opportunities is to bring all of these players together to work together and to come up with a consensus approach, solutions that we all buy into together.
Ultimately, when you have the developers in the same room with the people that are the recipients of the program, if everybody has ownership of the final solution, the chances of buy-in and the chances of using them are a lot greater than working in isolation of each other.
Overall, the thing I want to do and the opportunity that I think exists here is getting a lot of committed and passionate people in the same room, working together.
CHRR: Is it possible to get to zero workplace injuries?
Gritziotis: That’s the goal, that is the ultimate goal and that’s why I took this on. Both at a personal and professional level, I think everybody would want us to strive for zero and that’s what we’re going to strive for.
CHRR: What are the biggest stumbling blocks to getting to zero injuries?
Gritziotis :It’s a very diverse workplace with diverse players. You’ve got small businesses, you’ve got medium-size businesses and you have large businesses. It’s about creating an awareness and getting the players to the table, talking about it.
People have to understand health and safety is not a cost, it’s an investment. It’s an investment in the organization, it’s an investment in their bottom line, it’s an investment in their families and it’s an investment into society.
Ultimately, it’s about ensuring that all these players agree that, “Yes, if these are sort of the principles, then let’s move forward collectively.”
CHRR: How do you get people to see health and safety as an investment not a cost?
Gritziotis: You need to find champions because the reality is we’re not starting from a base ground here or zero. There are organizations out there that do look, both in the public and private sector, at prevention activities and health and safety activities as an investment and I want to build on those.
I’m not going out into a workplace environment where there are no people that buy into this — there are many people. Identifying the champions and getting them to communicate to their peers is one way of doing it.