Creating culture of safety excellence (Canada's Safest Employers)

COS celebrates best and brightest at Canada’s Safest Employers awards

It was the biggest and best year yet for Canada’s workplace safety champions.

And if the fifth annual Canada’s Safest Employers (CSE) awards had an overarching theme, it was the importance of a strong safety culture. 

Thirty-six companies took the stage in Toronto to receive an expanded lineup of awards, according to Amanda Silliker, editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine.

“It’s a true testament to how safety has evolved over the last five years,” she said at the event. “(The awards program) came from modest beginnings in 2011, with just five winners, and has grown to this wonderful gala event… This year, we received five times the nominations that we did in the first year, and the quality of the applications is truly second to none.”

Employers from across the country, spanning a cross-section of sectors and industries, gathered to celebrate the most exemplary and innovative examples of workplace safety. 

“You are the ones who have chosen locker room leaders and changed the culture of safety in your organization; who ensure that workers have a one-on-one safety meeting with management; who have developed an emergency app for worker cellphones; and who even launched a safety poster awareness campaign using employees’ own family members,” said Silliker. 

“Having worked with you all for the past few months, I can honestly say I’m so impressed with the quality of the programs, the initiatives that you have in place, and all the hard work that you do to keep your workers safe and healthy every single day. You are truly amazing examples for other companies to follow.” 

In 2015, the CSE awards launched two new categories — the Young Worker Safety award and Canada’s Best Health + Safety Culture award, the top prize of the evening. 

There was also the regular lineup of 10 industry-specific awards, as well as the Wellness award and Psychological Safety award. 

Making sure every worker goes home safely to their families is a noble goal, one that every organization in every sector in every jurisdiction can embrace, said Neil Sternthal, managing director for Canada, Australia and New Zealand at Thomson Reuters,  publisher of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine. 

“This goal is not a ‘nice to have’ — it’s a must-have,” he said. “Proactive and preventative steps to improve safety can literally mean the difference between life and death, and that’s why the work of every single person in this room is absolutely critical.”

Culture is key
This year’s new award category of Canada’s Best Health + Safety Culture highlights the importance of embedding safety within the fabric of an organization — not just writing a list of rules, procedures and policies that, in practice, go ignored. 

Safety is so intrinsically tied into people, to culture, said Bruce Levitt, president of Levitt-Safety in Toronto, who presented the Canada’s Best Health + Safety Culture award. 

“What we’ve come to realize is safety is really a whole lot more than the stuff people wear to protect themselves. Companies that do best in terms of creating a safe work environment do that by having a fantastic safety culture,” he said. “We can’t just assume that people will do things safely. And we’ve been on a journey for a number of years now to transform our own safety culture in our organization, so I’m thrilled to be able to be here.”

A positive safety culture can make the difference between being a safe workplace and being the safest workplace, said Dave Fennell, director of Dave Fennell Safety in Cochrane, Alta., and a keynote speaker at the event. 

“Having made a whole career out of safety, I really appreciate what it takes to be safe — the efforts, the dedication, the persistence,” he said. 

That strong focus on safety culture will be an integral part of making workplaces even safer over the next five years, he said. There are a few different things that need to be done to make the workplace twice as safe by the year 2020, said Fennell. 

“First, we need to start with a solid (foundation)… one of the basics is we need to focus on the proactive aspect (of safety),” he said.  “And we need tools that help us sort out (all that information).”

Secondly, there needs to be an integrated focus on all the different elements of safety — such as safety facilities and management systems, but also health, wellness and psychological safety. 

It’s also important to have a solid understanding of the psychology of workers — to understand why workers take risks in the first place, said Fennell. 

“What’s going on in the cognitive aspect? Why do workers make mistakes?”

And finally, building a strong safety culture absolutely means having strong safety mentors, he said.

 “We need the role models, we need mentors… we need people and companies that we can look to for guidance, examples of how to excel in various sectors,” said Fennell. 

“We need to know how to excel in workplace wellness, psychological safety, and we need role models who can do that for us.”

Young worker safety
The other new award offering this year, the Young Worker Safety award, also sends a critically important message to employers, said Kevin Flynn, Ontario minister of labour and a guest speaker at the event.  

“Certainly, as people start to take health and safety much more seriously, they’re realizing that the sooner we introduce it into the thought process of young people — before they even start work — that’s the right time to start,” he said. 

Even when his own son started work, Flynn said it didn’t occur to him to ask, “What would you do if you feel unsafe?” 

Fortunately, his son had a strong understanding of the importance of workplace safety — even when it’s difficult to do the right thing. So when an older, more experienced worker tried to dismiss one of his concerns, Flynn’s son — who was supposed to be watching his co-worker’s back — stayed put. 

He ended up saving the man’s life when he fell onto a conveyer belt. 

“It’s always a moment to be proud of when your son calls you and says, ‘Dad, I saved a life today.’ That’s always a good feeling,” said Flynn. 

That’s why it’s so important to have those conversations with young people about why safety trumps everything else, he said. 

“When faced with the choice of doing things the right way or taking a shortcut, hopefully your voice will come into their head and they will do the right thing,” said Flynn.  “You never know the influence it will have.” 

Spreading the message 
It’s very important to celebrate workplace safety, he said, “because it stresses to other employers across this country that this is the ideal, this is what you should aspire to — this is what all employers in this country should be working towards.”

It also shows other organizations, and perhaps younger ones, that the most successful companies in the country focus on health and safety, and they make it a very high priority, said Flynn. 

“As minister of labour, one of the major aspects of my job is to spread that same message of health and safety — it’s a major part of what I do.”

As for the award winners, their work is far from over, said Fennell.  

“You have some challenges ahead of you. You have to be able to sustain what you have achieved — and sometimes sustainment is even more difficult… so be prepared for that hard work to sustain. You need to continue to strive to be better — don’t ever get complacent,” he said. 

“As Canada’s safest employers, you need to share, measure and lead — expand your influence beyond your employees, beyond your contractors, beyond your associates to your communities that you work in. 

“Help make your industry safer, your province safer, and help make Canada a safer place for all workers.” 

The full list of winners of Canada’s Safest Employers for 2015 can be found at

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