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Zero is the only number

When it comes to safety, an ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure – something underscored at the Canada's Safest Employers awards

By Todd Humber

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That Ben Franklin quote was what kept running through my head at the Canada’s Safest Employers gala, held on Sept. 6 in Toronto.

The second annual event, put on by Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine — a sister publication to Canadian HR Reporter — recognized exemplary practices in health and safety. (We've got a story on the event coming up in the Oct. 8 issue, and you can visit for more information on the winners, including videos.)

It was impossible not to walk away from the event buzzing about the great, proactive work organizations and individuals are doing to ensure the safety of workers and the general population.

Everyone I talked to in its wake was fired up about health and safety, and how critical it is to ensure jobs are done in a safe manner so everyone gets to go home at the end of the day.

But it was also tough not to feel a tinge of regret, too, that not all employers take health and safety as seriously as these top organizations. A safe workplace can’t be a “nice to have” — it’s not akin to reducing average time to hire or increasing engagement scores by a couple of points. It means a lot more than a slight improvement in EBITDA or a small savings on expenses. (Interestingly, though, a safe workplace could arguably improve every one of these points. Employees want to work for employers that take safety seriously. And nothing would impact revenue more than being slapped with a stop-work order by the government in the wake of an incident.)

Four years ago, I did an interview with Steve Mahoney, then chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), about the notion of targeting zero fatalities or accidents in workplaces. After all, many people just say, “Hey. Accidents happen. With millions of Canadians going to work, it’s impossible for nothing to go wrong.”

That line of thinking made Mahoney wince.

“If you say things like ‘Accidents happen and that’s just the way it is,’ what you’re really saying is that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent the incident that just occurred and it’s going to happen again,” he said. “That attitude is exactly the kind of attitude we’re working hard to change. Is zero easy? Absolutely not. But what goal do you want?”

Exactly. What number other than zero could possibly be acceptable when you’re talking about the safety of people?

There isn’t a single employer in this country that sets out with a purpose to injure workers. And yet, hundreds of thousands of workers in Canada are injured on the job every year.

In 2010, the most recent year data is available for from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, 249,945 time-loss injury claims were approved across the country. That same year, the association reported 1,014 workplace fatalities across the country.

That’s a far cry from zero. Not every employer named one of Canada’s Safest Employers has a flawless safety record. But their reaction to an incident, the steps they take to ensure it doesn’t happen again and to truly put safety first, ahead of everything else — that’s what sets them apart. They’re proactive, and they take it seriously.

They know that, when it comes to the health and safety of workers, an ounce of prevention isn’t worth a pound — it’s priceless.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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