Work Safe Alberta honours 700 employers with Best Safety Performer Award

Recipients enthusiastic, keen to display award logo on equipment, uniforms

Linda Perkins, health and safety manager at the 600-plus employee Weyerhaeuser branch plant in Grande Prairie, Alta., knows how hard it is to set a high level of workplace safety when humans, machinery and weather interact.

“This is definitely a high-risk business. Anytime you’re dealing with moving parts, open valves, hot steam and caustic chemicals, for instance, and then in either hot or cold temperatures, it becomes a challenge — every single day,” said Perkins. “You can never engineer out every risk, so you engineer out what you can and take procedures to keep them out.”

Despite the odds, Perkins’ Grande Prairie branch had no disabling injury (DI) claims in 2008 and was recognized by Work Safe Alberta with a Best Safety Performer Award in the large employer category for the fifth time in six years.

When the forest products company didn’t win in 2005, it reviewed what it had done differently compared to previous years. A critical piece of safety awareness training for Weyerhaeuser staff had been eliminated from the safety training curriculum in the early 2000s, found Perkins, which may have eroded the branch’s safety performance and accounted for its higher-than-industry average number of workplace injuries in 2005. That piece was called the “Heart of Safety” discussion.

“On an annual basis, the department team leads would sit down in private with each employee for about an hour to talk about expectations each side could have of the other. We started doing that again, after discontinuing it for several years. We took a good look at our results and realized that was one of the things that was working for us so, in 2006, we said, ‘Let’s go back and start that again,’” she said.

The Heart of Safety discussion asks each employee to put together a personal safety plan that includes two or three items he feels he needs to focus on in order to keep safe.

“Basically, what we try to do is to engage every single employee in some way in their own personal safety, every single day,” said Perkins.

“Whether that’s by diet and exercise, better fitness, learning new skills or engaging in better housekeeping around their general work environments. We want them to be aware of these things.”

All WCB companies eligible

All companies with an Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) account operating in Alberta are eligible for the annual Best Safety Performer Award. The award criteria is based on a company having no DI claims in that year, which better reflects overall health and safety, said Chris Chodan, public affairs officer with Alberta’s Ministry of Employment and Immigration.

“The DI screens out the employers with modified-work incidents,” he said.

A DI claim combines a lost-time claim (time away from work beyond the day of the injury) with a modified-work claim (when an injured worker’s duties are modified to allow them to remain at work).

To qualify for the awards, which started in 2003, a company must have reached 60 consecutive person-years worked with no DI claims; hold a current certificate of recognition (COR) from the Partnerships in Injury Reduction program (meaning a company has a safety management program in place); have no outstanding compliance orders from the province and no violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the last two years; have had no work-related fatalities in the last three years; and cannot be facing prosecution under the act.

There are two categories: One for small employers, with fewer than 40 person-years of employment during the award year, and one for large employers with more that 40 person-years of employment. (Alberta Employment and Immigration defines one person-year as equivalent to one full-time worker working for one year, equalling 2,000 hours worked.) A total of 700 Alberta employers qualified for the award in 2008.

“This award just basically recognizes companies that have good safety records,” said Chodan. “Normally, we write orders for companies that are not performing well, so this is positive incentive for companies that do well. We thought the companies (that) do have good records should be recognized.”

Recipient companies are keen to display the Best Safety Performer logo everywhere and are asking the department for tips on how to display it on coveralls, machinery and office space, he said.

“They’re more enthusiastic about it than we thought,” he said. “I don’t know if every CEO is lying awake at night wondering about whether or not they’re going to get it, but they sure do seem enthusiastic when they’ve got it.”

Another recipient in the large employers’ category, Meridian Surveys, is determined to keep the designation after receiving it for the first time for 2008. Based in Saskatoon, Meridian operates seven sites across Alberta and Saskatchewan on projects such as the Enbridge pipeline. Its safety regime consists of a 270-page manual that is “very detailed and job specific,” said safety co-ordinator Sarah Clappison.

Her safety team also meets quarterly with the various sites to discuss and resolve safety issues and Meridian employees complete daily and weekly reports on any safety hazards they’ve encountered on the job.

“With those sheets and their observations, we also ask our employees to provide solutions to those hazards. It’s a very proactive way to constantly identify and eliminate those safety hazards that do arise,” she said.

The company also has an in-house safety recognition program, with the results updated and awards presented monthly.

As for Perkins at Weyerhaeuser, safety’s not just something she thinks about as impartial from the day-to-day, despite the accolades.

“Let’s put it this way — we strive not to hurt anyone, ever. Our focus is on zero injuries and if we can receive some awards for those results, then great. They’re icing on the cake, is the way I look at it.”

Andrew Warren is a Regina-based freelance writer.

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