B.C. CEOs sign on for safer workplaces

Safety charter signals executive commitment to establish a sound health and safety culture

From 2004 to 2008, Alco Ventures, a manufacturer of aluminum railing systems and retractable screen doors, based in Langley, B.C., was growing rapidly.

“We’re not an unusual story in that respect,  particularly around the building products industry,” said CEO Ben Hume.

What was unique about the company at that point in its history was much less of a good news story. Between late 2006 and early 2007, with about 100 employees on staff, the company had 22 lost-time accidents.

“I had one of my staff members say to me: ‘When are we going to stop hurting people around here,’” said Hume. “It was a huge wake up call.”

After the “horrible, horrible experience” of so many injuries, Hume said he knew it was time for the company to get serious about safety.

During that period the company had doubled in size, it was not paying enough attention to safety and  didn’t have the right support systems in place, he said.

“We just said we are not prepared to accept that as a company.”

The company turned itself around, implementing a safety program so successful it now measures its safety performance by the number of first-aid incidents per 100,000 hours worked.

Alco Ventures is down to 1.5 incidents per 100,000 hours worked.

Safety and safety culture are one of those foundational issues you build on, Hume said.

“If you don’t have that in place you can’t build the rest.”

It was on this principle Hume got involved with the CEO committee to create a health and safety charter for the province.
The Health and Safety Leadership Charter, which was released at a health and safety conference for food, beverage and manufacturing industry CEOs on Oct. 27 in Vancouver, asks top executives to commit their companies to a higher safety standard.

“I believe it’s in my best interest to see safety as part of British Columbia culture… and the charter and a group of people behind the charter is a good way to promote that.”

The FIOSA-MIOSA Safety Alliance of B.C., headquartered in Chilliwack, is the organization spearheading the charter. FIOSA-MIOSA provides health and safety advisory services and develops tools, training and programs for food, beverage and manufacturing industries in B.C., said CEO Lisa McGuire.

“The health and safety leadership charter is a first for B.C. and it’s a way for leaders to show their commitment to fostering safe and successful businesses,” she said.

“Too many workers are being injured, with the industry statistics (in our industries) almost at two times that of the employer injury rate in our province, so we need to do something about that.”

Right now there are 23 signatories. The organization has a goal of having 150 employers sign on to the charter by 2015.
“We know that creating a culture of health and safety starts at the top so this initiative targeting CEOs and leaders creates a forum for sharing success and learning from each other, which is really what this will do,” said McGuire.

The content of the charter commits signatories to lead the establishment of sound health and safety culture and practices in their own organizations and to provide a workplace that protects the health, safety and well-being of employees, contractors, clients, customers, visitors and the communities in which they operate.

In 2007, when Hume was looking for safety resources, he sought out Maureen Shaw, who was  president  and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) in Ontario at the time.

Now a consultant, Shaw helped FIOSA-MIOSA work on the Oct. 27 conference the charter was released at.
The charter sets its sites on a key group, she said.

“The CEO sets the tone in the organization,” she said. “It’s the senior executives, the CEOs, the executive leadership team, that set the tone, create the culture and say this is the kind of organization we’re going to be.”

For organizations to be the best they can be, to be the most productive and competitive, they also have to be the healthiest, she said.

It is a conversation that has to be about more than just the numbers, which are easy for health and safety people to throw around, she said.

“But the most important part is remembering that behind every one of those numbers is a person,” said Shaw.
Shaw knows those people well.

The personal pain that comes when a family member is a victim of a workplace accident is familiar to her. She has been part of the statistics.

About 15 years into her 30 year career in workplace safety, Shaw’s son was seriously injured in a dynamite explosion at work. He spent almost two years in the hospital, in and out, mostly in, she said. His leg was amputated.

Now a new father and Paralympic athlete, Shaw’s son has come a long way in his recovery process, she said.

But it’s clear what her family went through has only added to the passion Shaw feels for the cause.

“I don’t want to see anyone else go through that,” she said.

CEOs can help decrease the chances of tragedy by putting people at the forefront of their decision making. It’s a practice Shaw believes will pay off in the end.

“My firmest belief about running organizations is that you have to put your people first and everything I know about running organizations proves to me, has proved to me that if you put your people first they will look after the business,” said Shaw.

The charter is a way for CEOs to prove their commitment to the cause.

Employers need to recognize they must put the workers first because the magnitude of workplace injuries, disease and death is not tolerable in Canada, said Shaw.

“We see ourselves as a very caring nation and yet every year in this country we kill about a thousand people, we injure over a million people, all because they went to work.”

It’s a situation that is intolerable to most Canadians, she said.

“And frankly to most CEOs,” she said. “In my experience as a CEO, I never ran across another CEO who got up in the morning, went to work and said how many people am I going to injure today? It just doesn’t happen. But CEOs, like every one of us, are human beings and they need help and assistance.”

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