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Saskatchewan leadership charter vows culture change for safety

By Mari-Len De Guzman
| www.cos-mag.com
WCB CEO Peter Federko, Safe Sask CEO Gord Moker, Brandt Industries president Gavin Semple, Deputy Minister to the Premier Doug Moen.    

With a lost-time injury rate that’s second highest in the country and a hospitalization rate from unintentional injuries that’s twice the national average, Saskatchewan’s safety record is in need of a big change.

Observers believe Saskatchewan’s agricultural roots have imbibed among its people a ‘git-r-done’ mentality that’s more focused on getting a job done rather than getting it done safely.

“It appears that we just have a greater propensity to accept injuries as accidents, as just sort of facts of life that we can’t do anything about,” says Peter Federko, CEO of the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board.

The province’s safety advocates are hoping to change all that, as they embark on a province-wide initiative to change people’s attitudes and behaviours toward safety.

On June 10, 2010, 128 organizations including the Government of Saskatchewan became signatories to the province’s first-ever Health and Safety Leadership Charter, pledging to promote and practice its principles in the workplaces and the community.

“We have determined that in order to reverse these injury statistics, (it) requires a change in attitude and behaviour which we are calling a cultural change — we need to bring about a cultural change,” says Federko. The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board is one of the charter’s founding partners.

Saskatchewan’s Health and Safety Leadership Charter was patterned after the Conference Board of Canada’s CEO Leadership Charter, with one slight yet important distinction: having the provincial government as a signatory.

Federko notes the importance of getting the Government of Saskatchewan to sign the charter. “We were pursuing the public sector, the Government of Saskatchewan, as a signatory not because of their legislative or regulatory authorities or responsibilities, but because they are a very significant employer in this province.”

According to Federko, this is the first time that a provincial government became a leadership charter signatory. As the province’s largest employer, the leadership charter organizers saw the need to get the government involved in the initiative.

Being a signatory to the charter, however, means more than just a signed document, Federko says. Charter signatories commit to bringing about a cultural change in their workplace and their communities, and they are expected to be able to demonstrate and share their successes.

“A good safety management system is way more than a binder that includes policies and procedures with respect to a heath and safety plan that sits on the shelf and collects dust,” he says.

Charter organizers are developing the Leadership Learning Community, an online forum where charter signatories can share their successes and learnings as they take the Health and Safety Charter principles to their workplaces and communities, says Gord Moker, CEO of Safe Saskatchewan.

This members-only online forum will serve as the starting point for establishing benchmarking mechanisms to measure the signatories’ outcomes as they promote and implement the charter’s health and safety principles, Moker says. The site is expected to be operational by September.

He adds the Conference Board of Canada, which administers the CEO Leadership Charter, would be a good resource for formulating the measurement criteria. “I think we’ve gained an ally in the Conference Board of Canada and we want to maintain our relationship with them.”

Beginning next year, the Health and Safety Leadership Charter will be hosting an annual Leadership Forum, where signatories to the charter would meet to discuss their experiences, successes and learnings in pursuing the charter’s health and safety principles. The forum will also be an opportunity to welcome new organizations to be part of the province’s Health and Safety Leadership Charter.

“The charter is simply a public expression on the part of community and business leaders to (commit to the) key principles of health and safety. But if there is no accountability mechanism to ensure that people have taken the signing of the charter seriously, really it simply becomes a physical exercise as opposed to a conscious change in attitude and behaviour,” Federko says.

Saskatchewan may have an uphill climb in their effort to improve its overall safety record, but Moker believes it will get done.

“We are a small province of a million people and we’ve got examples where, when there’s a need, our community, our broad provincial community comes together,” Moker says. One example, he says, is Saskatchewan’s annual Kinsmen Telemiracle fundraising event, through which millions of dollars are raised each year for charity.

“Our province has never let the people who are in need down,” he adds.

Moker believes the Saskatchewan people’s git-r-done mentality, which may have contributed to the province’s poor safety performance, will be the same value that would successfully get the province through this culture change towards injury prevention.

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