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No other number but zero for Pronghorn Controls

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

Pronghorn Controls is the gold recipient of Canada's Safest Employers Award 2012 in the Building and Construction category.

Twenty years ago, the idea of setting a target of zero injuries for a company such as Pronghorn Controls — an electrical and instrumentation construction and maintenance firm — would have been dismissed as “just silly” and unachievable.

Today, however, there’s no other number to target for Pronghorn Controls but zero, says Yves Tremblay, the company’s president and CEO.

“I think what happened is over time... we have learned collectively — and I think many in the industry have learned — that injuries are not to be accepted as a natural consequence of what we do,” Tremblay says.

“If we are undertaking any activity where we cannot effectively mitigate the hazards then we shouldn’t be undertaking that activity.”

Pronghorn’s safety programs are driven by two quality, health, safety and environment (QHSE) field managers, both reporting directly to the president and CEO — and that’s just the way Tremblay likes it to be.

“The reason why (the QHSE field managers)... report directly to me — versus a vice president — is I want to ensure that these folks can basically go right through the top with any issues or concerns that they see without having any levels between them and the most senior positions in the company,” says Tremblay. “That is something that is very important to me.”

Right from the hiring process, Pronghorn demonstrates to would-be employees its core values as a company — a huge part of which is ensuring workers go home safely at the end of each workday.

Prior to hiring, candidates for safety sensitive positions undergo drug and alcohol testing, as part of the company’s pre-employment Fitness for Work Program, says Tremblay. This is a vital part of the hiring process and a decision the company had to make and stand by despite the potential repercussions.

“We grappled a lot about (pre-employment drug and alcohol testing) — and I know there’s a lot of human rights considerations — but we made the decision and said, ‘we think the right thing to do is to pre-employ drug and alcohol test,’” Tremblay recalls.

The skills shortage in Alberta, notwithstanding, Pronghorn sees its pre-employment drug and alcohol testing as a differentiator with other companies.

“Almost an unintended consequence of that is it makes us an employer of choice,” says Tremblay. “I have had (employees’) wives come up to me at a Christmas function and say, ‘We appreciate your focus on safety and thank you for doing that.’ Because they don’t want their guys up working in that 80-foot work location next to a guy who is impaired, for example… when you’re working with someone in an environment like that, you really have each other’s back and you have your lives in each other’s hands.”

Pronghorn workers in the field face various hazards that are potentially life threatening. The company also has a considerable number of workers constantly on the road. According to Dean Toly, the company’s vice-president of operations, the highest risk Pronghorn workers face is driving — with workers logging between four and five million kilometers a year.  

For Cory Nespor, a maintenance foreman with Pronghorn who has worked for the company for almost six years, it’s the people he works with that make him confident about his safety on the job.

“We’ve always had people that work together well as a team, people that actually care about each other, they’re friends… Everybody actually cares about the guy beside him and that’s a big deal,” Nespor says of his work environment.

The ability of the worker to raise concerns and ideas about health and safety is empowering, Nespor says.

Pronghorn receives about 1,000 reports a month from field workers, ranging from hazard IDs and near misses to positive observations, according to Larry Johnson, QHSE field manager.

Johnson believes management visibility is an important factor in getting worker buy-in for the health and safety programs and policies.

“Whenever we go and do worksite inspection for instance, we will take a worker that we just randomly selected from the site, and take him along with us and we’ll explain and talk about what we’re looking for, why we’re looking for it, what makes it important,” Johnson explains. “It gives the worker the opportunity to be part of that and tell us what is important to him. It gives them the confidence.”

With the distinction of being recognized as one of Canada’s Safest Employers, Tremblay says receiving the award will help keep the momentum going for Pronghorn’s continuous journey towards achieving “zero harm.” 

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