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Calgary's Carewest delivers proactive caring

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

Carewest is the gold recipient of Canada's Safest Employers Award 2012 in the Services category.

As an organization that offers long-term and rehabilitative care for patients, Calgary-based Carewest wants to make sure its people providing these services to patients are also being looked after.

“I’ve been with Carewest for over 22 years now and have seen the growth of the organization,” says Blair Phillips, the company’s director of human resources and facilities. “This has meant understanding the types of risks involved for both our staff and the residents we look after.”

With 2,600 employees spread across 11 facilities in Alberta, Carewest focuses on proactive prevention by developing ways and means of assessing and identifying areas of risk employees are exposed to and instituting the necessary control measures to mitigate those risks.

Site safety inspections are conducted quarterly and led by none other than the company’s chief executive officer. Not only are these site inspections an opportunity to identify new health and safety risks, but they also demonstrate health and safety as a corporate priority.

“It’s absolutely critical (that CEOs participate in inspections) because it demonstrates that safety is not beneath anybody. It’s everybody’s accountability,” Phillips says.

As a health care provider, health promotion is an important part of Carewest’s health and safety program, says Phillips. The company offers various programs aimed at improving the physical, emotional and mental health of its workers. Some of its programs include the Employee Family Assistance Program that offers professional help for staff facing relationship and other family problems, smoking cessation assistance, lunchtime wellness workshops, health club subsidy and ergonomics assessment.

Offering these programs to workers is only one part of Carewest’s overall health and wellness strategy. Equally important for the organizations is the ability to mine data about employee usage of the various types of programs offered.

Looking at trends in utilization by employees of any of the programs available to them allows Carewest to get intelligence on the type of programs, resources or information the employees would most benefit from, Phillips says.

“If we have reports coming back that X number of staff are attending our EFAP program (employee family assistance program), then… we would get an aggregate report showing that there seems to be X per cent that are having family-related issues,” explains Phillips. “So (we offer) more resources to bring more information to the workforce to help educate people and provide more information in an open way that they can access different counseling services if they need it.”

Targeted programs are also developed based on the composition of its workforce. For instance, 96 per cent of Carewest’s workers are women. Programs and resources that deal with women’s health issues have been made available, says Phillips.

At Carewest the values of health and safety is something that is constantly communicated to the workers in various forms.

“For us it starts with education and conveying the message that health and safety goes far beyond just the workplace,” says Phillips. “If you injure yourself at work, it affects you 24 hours a day. Our discussion with employees is… about health and safety and well-being 24/7.”

That message seems to be getting across. Results of a recent safety perception survey at Carewest demonstrate this.

One worker comments: “Carewest is committed to employee health and safety and I would assume that with all the education and awareness done around safety issues, staff would be more knowledgeable today on complying with best health and safety practices.”

Another worker was impressed with how the company demonstrates its focus on health and safety from the start of employment. “On the first day I started, I had an actual ergonomic assessment done by our health and safety team to make sure I’m properly aligned at my desk.”

Having a good health and safety culture does not mean the challenges are behind them. One of the most pressing today has to do with the growth in Alberta’s workforce over the last few years. This brought about a change in the demographics of the working population as new immigrants settle and work in the province.

Language barriers and the varying literacy and comprehension levels among workers have led Carewest to re-examine the way the company delivers its messages and communicates with workers.

“The way we engage with employees has to be different. We can’t just sit them in a classroom and lecture to them. It has to be hands-on, scenario-based,” says Phillips.

To address this challenge, Carewest initiated a program that assesses workers’ essential skills for comprehension, numeracy and document usage. This would allow them to make the necessary adjustments to its forms and other communication materials to ensure they are delivered in the most comprehensible way for all its employees.

“That means checking the level of the language, the layout, the design of the forms, using pictorial diagrams rather than too many words,” Phillips says.

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