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More Saskatchewan chief executives sign on to health and safety charter

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

Saskatchewan’s chief executives are joining the safety bandwagon as the province’s Health and Safety Leadership Charter continues to gain traction with hundreds of signatories to date, officials say.

From an initial 128 company signatories when the charter was launched in 2010, it has grown to more than 300 business, government, union and community leaders, all declaring their commitment to pursing workplace health and safety in their respective organizations, says Gord Moker, chief executive officer of Safe Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Health & Safety Leadership Charter aims to form the foundation for a cultural shift in the way Saskatchewan leaders view injuries and injury prevention. The charter advocates for the continuous improvement of healthy and safe workplaces and communities.

“This whole process has really exceeded our expectations,” Moker says. “These (signatories) are all government, business, union and community leaders who have all said, ‘We understand that we have an injury epidemic and we’re here to help in any way we can and think that a good start is to sign the seven principles of the Health and Safety Leadership Charter, and put those principles into action.’”

National injury statistics rank Saskatchewan as having one of the worst workplace time-loss injury records in the country, second only to Manitoba. Outside the workplace, injury hospitalization rate in the province is twice the national average.

According to the website Safe Saskatchewan, preventable injuries cost the province $1 billion every year, from health care costs, workers’ compensation and other insurer disability costs.

“Everyday in our province, 435 people are injured, 26 of them will end up in hospital, 10 will suffer permanent disability and one person will die,” says Moker.

He adds the charter signatories are now being asked to “put an end to this injury epidemic.” And if the continuously increasing number of charter signatories is any indication, the province’s leaders are heeding the call.

Hitachi Power Systems Canada is one of the first to come onboard when the charter was launched in 2010. Prior to this, Hitachi has started implementing some drastic changes to improve its safety performance.

“In 2008, we had what I refer to as ‘A-ha!’ moment, when we started to take a closer look at our safety performance,” says Tom Kishchuk, president and CEO of Hitachi Power Systems Canada. “And we recognized that it wasn’t on the radar screen of our senior management.”

Signing the Health and Safety Leadership Charter two years later was a good fit for where the company is headed in their safety goals, and a way to keep safety on the minds of Hitachi’s senior management, the chief executive says.

One of the most important changes the company did was to have the safety coordinator report directly to the president of the company.

“This means that I see every safety incident report and will be able to judge whether or not the root cause analysis and the corrective actions are sufficient to address the issues and prevent the re-occurrence of issues,” Kishchuk says.

This organizational change has been a learning experience for the Hitachi CEO. “It’s been a learning experience from the perspective of understanding that all injuries are preventable in the workplace and that often, it’s a series of events that will lead up to an incident occurring. And we need to be watching for the build up of those events and, when we see that build up, that we’re taking action before something happens to prevent that from happening.”

Being a charter signatory provides Hitachi opportunities to network with like-minded leaders in the community, Kishchuk says.

All the work’s paying off for the company as Hitachi has seen a 52 per cent reduction in its time-loss injury rates and 36 per cent reduction in total injury since 2008.

Morris Industries, a manufacturer of farming equipment, is also one of the first to sign the Saskatchewan Health and Safety Leadership Charter, recognizing the importance of senior management buy-in for any workplace health and safety program.

“From our perspective, by signing the charter we are going to talk the talk, we are going to walk the walk,” says Don Henry, chief operating officer of Morris Industries.

Henry says being a charter signatory is more than just ink on paper; it needs to be backed up by solid actions or the credibility of an organization is at stake.

To the Morris Industries chief executive, accountability should be an important element of the charter.

“If we’re going to stand up and say, ‘yes, this is important to us, I am willing to put my name on it,’ then I better be acting that way back in our company with our employees, or I am going to lose my credibility,” Henry says.

Like Hitachi, Morris was on a mission to improve its safety record when the company signed the charter in 2010. Henry says the charter principles are displayed throughout its facilities.

Since 2008, Morris has implemented significant changes to its operations, with a higher focus on health and safety. From appointing a fulltime safety manager and initiating regular safety meetings to undergoing a safety audit and developing and implementing plans to address issues that came up from the audit, Morris Industries has raised the profile of safety not just for the employees but for management as well, says Henry.

“I can’t say enough how important safety is to the organization — both personally and business-wise,” Henry says. “The charter just makes us in the upper level management accountable. The last thing I want is to ruin my credibility. I don’t want to have to phone a family that there’s (been) an injury. We’re going to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The Saskatchewan Health and Safety Leadership Charter holds an annual event where existing signatories can network and share best practices, Safe Saskatchewan’s Moker says. It’s also an opportunity to welcome new additions to the charter signatories.

The province is now in the process of conducting studies with the end goal of developing accountability framework for charter signatories. The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board and the University of Regina are spearheading this project, Moker says.

“Right from the start Peter Federko (CEO of Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board) and I have said, ‘This is not a photo-op,’” Moker says, adding that accountability among charter signatories is an important next step for the charter’s progression.

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