Maureen Shaw grew up in a small town in British Columbia where a siren would sound every time someone was injured or killed at the mill. For Shaw, whose father, a union steward, often took on the riskier jobs at the mill in return for “danger pay,” the siren was terrifying because there was no way to know who was hurt or how bad. The workers often went on strike to protest the poor safety conditions.
“I only remember thinking, so many times, there had to be a better way, a better life,” said Shaw.
Workplace health and safety has evolved since then and Shaw, who retires from her position as president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) this month, has been a significant contributor to that change.
“Some of the key things have been changes in the way business leaders are beginning to think about health and safety and the way society is,” said Shaw. “A healthy workplace is becoming the norm — we are working on this being a national habit. We are now looking at the psychosocial aspects of the workplace as much as we are the physical.”
IAPA is a Mississauga, Ont.-based not-for-profit health and safety organization that represents more than 50,000 Ontario firms and 1.5 million workers. The 92-year-old organization has more than 200 employees, 600 volunteers and six offices across the province.
As Shaw leaves IAPA, the association is joining with Ontario Service Safety Alliance (OSSA) and the Farm Safety Association to form Safe Workplace Promotion Services Ontario (SWPSO) on Jan. 1, 2010.
One of the biggest changes Shaw advocated for during her time with IAPA was for a more holistic approach to workplace health and safety. While IAPA has maintained its core offerings around basic safety and training for workers, supervisors and managers, the organization has broadened its offerings to include mental wellness, she said.
As part of that initiative, IAPA has partnered with the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health.
“We worked with them to begin to raise awareness among employers about mental illness and stress and harassment and bullying,” she said. “At the same time, we’ve been working with them to eliminate the stigma that goes along with mental illness.”
Depression and other mental health issues haven’t traditionally been seen as part of health and safety but that needs to change, said Shaw. If an employee’s job is causing stress that leads to depression, he won’t be focused on the job. This lack of focus increases the likelihood of a workplace accident or injury, she said.
“If we are ever going to get to zero injuries, we are never going to get there by only focusing on just a few things,” said Shaw.
IAPA’s partnership with the roundtable is just one of the partnerships Shaw has spearheaded during her tenure. Developing relationships with businesses, governments and other organizations, locally and internationally, is a way for IAPA to share best practices and gather more information for members, she said.
“We were able, as an organization, to become not only an International Labour Organization collaborating centre but also a World Health Organization collaborating centre,” said Michael Abromeit, general manager of IAPA who has worked with Shaw for 14 years.
Throughout her time with IAPA, Shaw encouraged member firms to move away from the traditional approach of centralizing health and safety in one function or department.
“When you think about an organization, you can’t compartmentalize it as we try to do. You have to integrate health and safety throughout the organization,” she said.
To properly serve members in this broader, systemic look at health and safety, IAPA staff need a different set of skills than they did 15 years ago, said Shaw. Many employees have degrees in organizational development, engineering and business administration and IAPA continues to help them develop their skills.
“They understand it’s one thing to have theory and another to walk into an organization and understand what its strengths and weaknesses might be,” she said.
Leadership training has been a main focus for Shaw and IAPA for the past three years and she hopes this will continue in the new organization. While training workers on health and safety is important, it isn’t enough to create real change, she said.
“If we’re not focusing on educating leadership, we’re going to miss the boat,” said Shaw.
IAPA’s efforts have been paying off with a 48-per-cent reduction in lost-time injury rates among member firms over the past decade.
Shaw is also proud of IAPA’s involvement in the creation of Safe Communities Canada, a charitable organization spearheaded in 1996 by Paul Kells after his 19-year-old son Sean was killed during his third day on the job. The organization, which has been accredited by the World Health Organization, helps communities build programs to promote a culture of safety for all citizens.
“I don’t believe anyone goes to their business or work and thinks that injuring people either physically or mentally is OK,” said Shaw.
During her tenure at IAPA, the association has been honoured by the National Quality Institute. In 2008, IAPA was awarded gold trophies for both healthy workplaces and quality.
The association’s new headquarters, located in the Centre for Health and Safety Innovation, has ergonomic work stations for all employees, who received ergonomic assessments. The centre also has an on-site fitness centre and offers lunch-and-learn sessions on a variety of topics including fitness, nutrition and mental health.
“Members see IAPA is doing what we ask members to do,” she said.
Another area where Shaw led by example was in the way she put employees first at IAPA.
“If you look after your people, they will look after your business,” she said.
Shaw’s people focus made her stand out as a business leader, said Lance Novak, past chair of IAPA’s board of directors.
“She was definitely a people person (who) cared as much about the employees who worked beneath her as she did the workers in the industries she represented,” said Novak, who worked with Shaw for about five years. “She’s a very strong business person and, at the same time, the one person you could meet with and end a meeting with a hug.”
Shaw will continue to help create psychologically safe workplaces by working with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, chaired by former senator Michael Kirby.
Elizabeth Mills, CEO of OSSA for the past 10 years, will be the inaugural CEO of SWPSO.
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