Leadership by example: Committing to workplace health and safety

National charter works to integrate safety into business strategies, processes
By Hitomi Suzuta
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/24/2012

Almost 900 people die annually in Canadian workplaces. The number of work-related deaths increased by 26 per cent between 1993 and 2010, according to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, and no province or territory has been able to decrease fatalities for two consecutive years.

Real transformation in the health and safety practices of Canadian organizations has to come from the top to make a lasting impact on what is often a matter of life or death. This reality prompted Duncan Hawthorne, president and CEO of Tiverton, Ont.-based Bruce Power, to become a champion of improved health and safety at the workplace.

In 2005, workplace deaths in Canada reached 1,100 and Hawthorne envisioned a national health and safety charter — he considered it essential to have government and business work together. So, that same year, he met with federal, provincial and territorial ministers of labour to ask for their commitment to a national health and safety campaign.

After securing political endorsements, Hawthorne engaged key stakeholders in building a coalition. The CEO Safety Leadership Charter (now known as the Senior Executive Health and Safety Leadership Charter) was launched in 2005 with the assistance of key individuals from the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA), Ontario Safety Security Alliance (OSSA) and the Electrical and Utilities Safety Association (EUSA), along with 54 initial signatories.

Hawthorne based his campaign on the belief effective leadership could transform health and safety in the workplace. The charter promotes the link between leadership at the top and the health and safety of workers at all Canadian workplaces at all levels.

The mission of the charter group was to work together to improve and promote health and safety performance through sharing, mentoring and coaching.

Two months later, the charter group met to form the Ontario Working Committee to develop an organizational structure, terms of reference and vision — starting in Ontario and then branching out to other provinces. Each provincial initiative would be formed and led by the CEO of an organization, agency or company.

A series of 30 events, workshops and information session were held between 2005 and 2007 to engage senior leaders through coaching, mentoring and partnering activities. Theme workshops were organized to assist in sharing best practices.

In April 2007, the Conference Board of Canada took over the administration and promotion of the Senior Executive Health and Safety Leadership Charter. And one year later, there were 300 signatories in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

7 principles

The charter

is intended to support the continuous improvement of healthy and safe workplaces. It calls on CEOs to support seven principles:

•To subscribe to the principle that nothing is more important than the health, safety and well-being of employees, contractors, visitors and the surrounding community.

•To integrate health and safety into business strategies, processes and performance measures, and to recognize that good health and safety performance supports good business results.

•To effectively manage health and safety risks by eliminating, minimizing or controlling hazards.

•To strive for continuous health and safety improvement and to provide the leadership and internal capacity to make this happen.

•To provide an environment that enables all employees to participate and work collaboratively in developing, promoting and improving health and safety at work.

•To extend health and safety efforts beyond the workplace, recognizing and supporting related initiatives within the community.

•To participate within a CEO health and safety leadership learning community, by providing and receiving information and best practices, with the goal of continuously improving health and safety strategies, programming and performance.

Participation in this charter is a visible commitment from business leaders to actively participate within a learning community — one that provides and receives best practices for the enhancement of the physical, social and mental well-being of employees.

Progress has been made in recent years — notably, time-loss work-related injuries dropped by 19 per cent between 2008 and 2010, according to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada.

However, many individual industries have seen a rise in injuries. In the eight provincial jurisdictions included in the charter, the occupations of mining, quarrying and oil wells had a 21 per cent rise in incidents between 2009 and 2010.

In addition, work-related injuries increased in business services, health and social service industries, logging and forestry, construction industries, real estate operators and insurance agents, and educational services.

Unsafe or unhealthy workplaces impose real costs on organizations and the communities where they operate. The costs are more than financial or operational — organizations have a corporate responsibility to provide safe work environments.

Taking a proactive stance improves shareholder confidence, encourages an environment of continual improvement within the workplace and helps contribute to a unified, national project of healthier and safer workplaces.

Hitomi Suzuta is a research associate in national security and public safety, public policy division, at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa. She can be reached at (613) 526-3090 ext. 343 or suzuta@conferenceboard.ca.

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