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Utility industry sets zero target

By Mari-Len De Guzman
| www.cos-mag.com

Zero may be the worst possible mark in the academic realm, but in the workplace, it’s exactly what safety professionals are aiming for.

The Electrical and Safety Utilities Association (EUSA) has been working with its member companies towards a similar goal. Launched in 2004, ZeroQuest was established as a tool for instituting an integrated health and safety system in the workplace, envisioned to lead the industry towards its target of zero lost time injuries by 2011.

Zero may be the worst possible mark in the academic realm, but in the workplace, it’s exactly what safety professionals are aiming for.

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), for instance, recently launched a five-year strategic plan called, The Road to Zero, aimed at reducing work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses in the province to zilch.  

The Electrical and Safety Utilities Association (EUSA) has also been working with its member companies towards a similar goal. Launched in 2004, ZeroQuest was established as a tool for instituting an integrated health and safety system in the workplace, envisioned to lead the industry towards its target of zero lost time injuries by 2011.

EUSA’s quest for zero, however, did not begin with ZeroQuest, according to EUSA president and CEO Ted Vandevis. The concept of zero was set much earlier in 2000 when EUSA’s board of directors established an 11-year target for reaching zero lost-time injuries and illnesses for Ontario workers in the electrical and utilities sector.

“We had a really courageous board in 2000. They knew it was going to take 10 or 11 years to change culture. They were very courageous. They stuck their neck out and said, ‘We’re going to zero by 2011,’” says Vandevis.

The electrical and utilities industry is now the best performing industry in Ontario when it comes to workplace safety and health, according to Vandevis. But it wasn’t always the case, he said, noting that during the 1800s and1900s, the death rate for linemen was at 50 per cent and the average life expectancy of a lineman on the job was four years.

Over the last decade, however, the number of lost-time injuries among workers significantly dropped from 1,100 in 1996 to 390 in 2006, Vandevis says. “It’s the best performance of any industry in the province.”

Zero complements

ZeroQuest is a framework for health and safety management designed to complement existing occupational health and safety standards, Vandevis says.

“We looked at all the health and safety systems, the international standards like (OHSAS) 18001 and other international standards like that and we said, ‘You know what, there are some pieces that are missing here.’ And the pieces that are missing we built into ZeroQuest, so that ZeroQuest complements other health and safety systems,” Vandevis explains.

ZeroQuest is a four-level program: Commitment, Effort, Outcomes and Sustainability. Companies enrolled in the program go through a rigorous process of achieving a specific status that they signed up for, Vandevis says. The company must pass the documentation requirements and a series of interviews before they are certified under any level.

Getting management and union buy-in at the beginning is an important first step, Vandevis says. “We haven’t really had any difficulty getting the unions and the management both to sign an application letter of support. The unions have been fierce advocates for health and safety for many, many years and they are more than happy to support an application.”

Investing in ZeroQuest also has its merits for management, says Vandevis. “According to WSIB statistics, one injury we know costs a company $98,000. Our fees for ZeroQuest over a period of eight years are nowhere near $98,000. So by any business case, it’s a good investment if you only even save one lost time injury.”

Quest for Gold

Stoufville, Ont.-based The K-Line Group is currently working towards attaining Outcomes level, also known as the Gold status, says Jim Kellett, the company’s senior vice-president and a member of the EUSA board.

“The ZeroQuest program really gives the whole industry and allows all the companies, whether they are small, owner-operated type or larger entities like the Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One, to participate with the same end-goal – zero injuries – and beyond that to zero incidents,” Kellett says.  

The K-Line executive says EUSA’s ZeroQuest initiative was in line with the company’s safety culture.

“We recognized many, many years ago, well before we participated in ZeroQuest, that our biggest asset is our

people. Just from a moral point of view, we don’t want our people injured in the course of doing work. We certainly couldn’t pay them enough to be injured and we certainly couldn’t charge our customers enough to have that happen,” Kellett says.

Getting everyone in the company – whether they work in the administrative office, out in the field or in senior management – to participate in the ZeroQuest program was key, Kellett said. Even before it participated in the program, part of K-Line’s safety management strategy is getting all employees fully engaged in health and safety, he says.

With safety certifications, for instance, while some companies certify only the chair and members of the health and safety committee, K-Line ensures that every employee goes through part one and part two of basic certification, Kellett says. “Just engaging them to a higher level brings the safety climate and the safety culture to a higher level.”

K-Line started out with ZeroQuest at the Commitment level or Bronze status in 2005.

The company has since progressed through the program and is well on its way to achieving Gold level, which Kellett expects will happen in June and will be announced at EUSA’s annual general meeting. K-Line will then be the second company to attain the Gold status, with the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) as the first.

Reaching the goal

Having a strong and mature safety culture and robust safety management system are key to achieving a Gold status under the ZeroQuest program, says Scott Martin, vice-president for Hydro HR and Employee Safety at the OPG. Because the OPG already has an established safety management system, it began its ZeroQuest program in 2005 at the Outcomes level, and in the same year achieved the Gold status, he says.

The OPG is now working towards Sustainability level and aims to achieve Platinum status by 2010.

Like The K-Line Group, the goal of zero injuries wasn’t new to the OPG, says Martin. “We have a motto at OPG that has been around for quite a few years now and it’s, ‘Zero injuries. Believe it. Achieve it.’ Every employee in the company knows that motto and with the ZeroQuest program, our goal of zero injuries aligned with that perfectly.”

An “unwavering” commitment to safety, continuous improvement, strong partnership with employee unions “in an environment of trust and mutual respect,” and a strong internal responsibility system (IRS) are among the key components in achieving ZeroQuest Gold status, Martin says.

But not all companies are able to start at the Gold level, he adds. Companies need to assess the level of maturity of their own health and safety systems so that they can make a determination of the appropriate ZeroQuest level they can start with. “They really have to look and see where they are now and just pick a realistic and appropriate level.”

The objective, he says, is for a company not to settle on just one level but to continuously strive to get to the next level.

“Before they even enter into the program at any level, they need to be prepared that they are going to be there for the long haul…and they need to resolve right upfront that it’s going to require a very high level of commitment towards safety, at the most senior levels of the company,” Martin says.

Out of about 850 EUSA member companies, 180 firms are currently participating in the ZeroQuest program, according to EUSA’s Vandevis.  

Vandevis believes zero is a “very realistic” target and can actually be achieved. “It’s quite manageable…but it takes commitment, number one; it takes perseverance. As you go along the course you’ll have setbacks, everybody does. But you can’t lose sight of the end-goal like anything in life, and you persevere towards that.”

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