Black and McDonald wins top prize for zeal from upper management, active investigations

Construction company takes home Nova Scotia’s 2010 Mainstay Safety Award of Excellence

A subcontractor at Black and McDonald was operating a lift to move pieces of concrete when a chain he was using as a hoist released and hit the sprinkler piping on the ceiling. No one was hurt and there was no damage, but there was the potential for both. The company, including upper management, spent several days investigating the incident with numerous people to determine how the chain was released. They found it had not been connected properly, so management changed the way they had been doing it so it wouldn’t happen again.

This proactive approach to safety, with active investigation from upper management, is the reason why Black and McDonald, Atlantic region, has been so successful in mitigating health and safety issues in the company for more than 25 years, said Carol Redden, safety advisor at Black and McDonald, Atlantic region. In the past six years, the company has not had a single lost-time incident and it investigates every near-miss situation. 

 “Full support from senior management is vital,” said Redden. “It soon filters down to the next level and when supervisors see managers are serious about it, they are too. It might take a bit of time but this is the way it has to be done so nobody gets hurt.” 

 Black and McDonald is the recipient of this year’s Safety Award of Excellence, a part of Nova Scotia’s Mainstay Awards recognizing excellence in occupational health and safety. The award is presented by the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Workforce Development.

The 600 unionized employees at the Black and McDonald Atlantic branch undergo extensive safety training orientation, lasting four to five hours, when they are hired or re-hired. They are then trained, on average, every two years in WHMIS, first aid, fall arrest, traffic control, heavy equipment operation, confined spaces and other training specific to their positions, said Redden.

A typical day at Black and McDonald starts with a hazard assessment. Every supervisor and his crew members look at the plan for the day and identify what hazards they may face during their tasks and what controls they need to put in place to deal with those hazards, said Redden. 

Management and supervisors also visit each site on a weekly basis for inspection.

“Even workers who are working alone comment that senior management was down at their work site for a couple of hours, watching, talking and working with them,” said Redden. “With the senior people right there on site, you get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

The return-to-work program is another major focus at the company. If an employee is injured, management works with the doctor to modify the duties so they can be completed without further injury and the worker can continue to be fully employed, said Redden.

When a worker suffered minor back strain due to moving items in an awkward position, management gave him a bench so he could do similar work sitting down.

“He was still productive, it was still related to his trade. No he wasn’t producing as much as before, but we want to work with our employees and see them through the recovery period to get them back to full capacity,” said Redden.

Black and McDonald, Atlantic region, has 14 employees in its health and safety committee, representing all the trades within the company, which meets every month. The company also has a national committee where a representative from each of the 14 regions also meets on a monthly basis to develop more safety programs, review incidents that have occurred and monitor the number of hazard assessments completed.

Management is also actively involved with the health and safety committee and they “push safety” by supporting any recommendations from the committee, said Redden. In his 12 years as safety advisor, Redden said he hasn’t seen a single recommendation be turned down by regional manager Adrian Morrison.

“He even does better than the committee sometimes by taking a recommendation and putting more money into it,” said Redden.

Black and McDonald invests millions of dollars annually in health and safety programs across the country.

The company also has a behaviour-based safety program that empowers workers to “go past the legislative right to refuse” to work, and to immediately stop working if they have any doubt in their minds about the safety of the task, said Redden.

“They should always ask themselves, ‘Am I doing this the Black and McDonald way?’ and, if not, they have to stop what they’re doing immediately, even if it’s just placing a ladder that isn’t really secure when they know they’re only going to be up there for a minute,” said Redden.

Management encourages workers to conduct this last-minute risk assessment at every step of the project and they have developed a strong safety culture this way throughout the company, he said.

The company offers a yearly award to the region that performs the best in health and safety each year. Individual employees without any incidents can participate in monthly draws for prizes such as a battery-operated drill. Workers are also recognized if they exhibit outstanding commitment to health and safety.

“We commend workers when we see them doing positive things, following procedures and conducting good safety housekeeping,” said Redden. “We give credit for good ideas by things like publishing them in our electronic newsletters. Their ideas are not just taken for granted.”

Redden admits to being “a little complacent” in expecting everyone to be as proactive about health and safety as Black and McDonald, but he acknowledges it has been an evolving, dedicated process over the past 25 years.

“It isn’t just something that you can develop and put on paper, then all of a sudden it’s working,” he said. “It has to be monitored, mentored and molded.”

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