Leaders: Do your employees know you are committed to creating a culture of safety in your workplace?

By Staff

Why are you passionate about creating a culture of safety in your workplace? Was there a particular event or moment in your work history that was a turning point for you?

For George McClean, President, National Tire Distributors, the turning point was a near-miss in his early working career. David Gandossi, President and CEO and Director of Mercer, was exposed to the importance of health and safety at an early age because he worked around large industrial complexes. David Weinstein, President and CEO of CSA Group, says seeing what can go wrong due to unsafe products, work conditions, and behaviours profoundly impacted him. And, tragically, for Yves Tremblay, President and CEO of Pronghorn Controls, it was the death of a friend on the job and being the one that delivered the news to the family that was the catalyst for his commitment to health and safety.

These gentlemen were nominees for the WSPS CEO of the Year Award presented at the Canada's Safest Employers Awards ceremony in October. They also participated in a panel discussion facilitated by Sandra Miller, Vice President of Strategy & Governance at WSPS, called "Building a Strong Safety Culture from the Top Down."

They were nominated because they recognize that creating a safety culture must start at the top of the organization. Each of these leaders inspires, engages, and excites their employees about health, safety, and wellness every day.

Do your employees know how important a culture of safety is to you?

If asked, would your employees say that they believe you are passionate about creating a culture of safety? As the CEO or a senior leader, it is incumbent on you to champion safety values and ensure that health and safety is seen as being mission-critical. It takes constant work and a combination of small gestures and significant actions to make this happen.

Yves Tremblay makes this clear from the first day that an employee joins the organization. He sends a handwritten note to their home address. It highlights the organization's values and reinforces that safety is a cornerstone of their culture. He noted that, over the years, people have encouraged him to send an email, but he believes that the gesture of writing a personal note makes a much stronger impression.

Here are a few other ways that the panelists shared they set the tone in their organizations:

  • Recognize that the things leaders say and do impact culture and values directly.
  • Make time for health and safety – George McClean says that health and safety is the first agenda item at every senior management meeting and there is no time limit attached to it. "If we can't resolve health and safety issues quickly, we devote as much time as needed and defer other agenda items."
  • Establish standards and ensure all leaders in the organization promote and commit to them.
  • Encourage leaders to challenge and coach one another.
  • Measure safety and track progress.
  • Integrate safety into core values.
  • Be vocal and visible about health and safety – David Gandossi, who took home this year's CEO of the Year Award, says, "Leaders need to be passionate and pound the table when it comes to safety."
  • Lead by example – Yves Tremblay stressed, "People judge leaders on deeds, not words."
  • Use leading indicators to reduce frequency rates – In the absence of a standard Pronghorn Controls created its own leading indicator frequency rate. They have collected thousands of pieces of data that show a direct correlation between leading and lagging indicator frequencies.
  • Celebrate success – don't just be visible when bad things happen.
  • Make health, safety, and wellness a topic of discussion every day and at the start of every meeting.
  • Invest in the proper PPE – make sure it is good quality and professional, so employees are proud to wear it.

The pandemic changed everything and created unique opportunities.

Earlier this year, WSPS released its Health and Safety Leadership Survey, in which 92% of respondents indicated that having a strong culture of health and safety allowed their organization to cope with the unexpected, including the pandemic. Further, 99% indicated that health and safety will be more important as we move out of the pandemic.

[Join your peers. Participate in the third annual Health and Safety Leadership Survey.]

As you reflect on your organization, do you see that the pandemic has created opportunities that didn't exist before? David Weinstein and George MacLean were asked this question in the panel discussion.

Weinstein noted that, at CSA Group, they took dramatic actions to keep people safe, spending millions on remote work and new employee health programs with a particular emphasis on mental health. "Our organization's response to the pandemic demonstrated that when a company is truly concerned real actions are required, and real actions speak louder than words."

George McClean said that National Tire doubled down on health, safety, wellness, and respect. They also reoriented their entire leadership approach, including doing one-on-one wellness check-ins. "We had done this before but not in such an individual way. It improved our ability to connect with people and help them through difficult situations."

Do you walk the talk?

An important way you can demonstrate commitment to health, safety, and wellness is to practice self-care.

Miller asked the nominees how they set the example for self-care. George McClean shared that it is a constant journey and that sometimes it's easier said than done, but he believes that paying attention to his energy level is critical. He takes stock before each activity/meeting in his calendar. He also said that, as an introvert, he is careful about successive days of travel or meetings because if he doesn't manage this effectively, it becomes exhausting.

David Weinstein said that for him, "Being generous with your time with people and causes that add stability to your life and making sure they never lose importance is essential. It is difficult to lead an organization without your health and happiness."

Yves Tremblay does various things to care for his mind and body, including eating well, getting enough sleep, and making sure he does 10,000 steps every day. He spends time with family and re-energizes by engaging his brain in other hobbies and interests outside of work.

David Gandossi relies on simple things like drinking enough water, eating right, being careful with time, spending time with his animals, and hobbies like woodworking to help him stay healthy. He also says, "It's important that you don't take yourself too seriously."

Leader care needs to be a priority for every organization. At an event earlier this year, Santa Ono Vice-Chancellor, UBC, made the point that just as the CEO and senior leaders must protect employees' health, safety, and wellbeing, the board should be responsible for ensuring that the CEO is supported. Sadly, many organizations don't do this.

Practicing self-care will also send a clear message to your staff that you're not just giving lip service to the importance of health, safety, and wellness. Whether you have the support of your board or not, you must take steps to manage your health and wellness. Without time to re-energize and care for yourself, you run the risk of burnout.

As the session closed out, the panelists named the most important qualities a safety leader must possess. They were:

  • Passion
  • Heart
  • Respect
  • Empathy
  • Authenticity
  • Adaptability

If your employees don't know how you feel, it may be time to take stock of what you're doing on a day-to-day basis and the tone you're setting in your organization, so they know you are serious and passionate about creating a culture of safety.

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