Air Canada is the gold winner in the transportation category for the 2014 Canada's Safest Employers Awards
While a commitment to safety is one of Air Canada’s cornerstone values, the airline’s pursuit of safety goals is transforming as technology advances and its ability to capture and use data expands.
“Going where the data takes us and acting accordingly has significantly advanced safety at Air Canada and really, it produces the most responsive and effective results,” explains Samuel Elfassy, Air Canada’s senior director of corporate safety, environment and quality in Dorval, Que.
One of the airline’s greatest challenges when it comes to effective and timely sharing of safety information is the sheer size of its workforce — some 27,000 employees working across the globe in aircrafts, taking care of passengers or on the ramps.
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One recent move towards reducing gaps and finding new ways to work together cross-functionally, says Elfassy, is Web-OHS — an online central repository for health and safety information, which allows Air Canada’s safety committees in different cities to share information about hazards and concerns.
“In, say, the ramp operations, we have similar problems. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, we can just call up Toronto and see what they’re doing about it and basically it’s a standardization of everything. It’s a wonderful tool,” says Christopher Cheung, lead station attendant, safety representative for Vancouver and national health and safety co-ordinator for the union representing below the wing and ground crews.
The information gathered in the program — on issues ranging from flight deck distractions to aircraft damage — has ultimately allowed the company to develop a safety risk profile, reduce duplication of work and encourage collaboration.
Another tool aimed at further breaking down information silos is Air Canada’s safety information management system, a centralized, non-punitive structure that allows employees to voluntarily report an existing or potential safety event.
“That sharing of information is critical to safety, because if we don’t know what is happening out there, you can’t solve it,” says Elfassy.
The airline has seen a number of efficiencies from the system, including: accountability and consistency within reporting metrics; fundamental changes based on consistency; ability to track, trend, inform and educate on safety issues and risks; understanding of corporate risks; and a paperless working environment within the safety department.
Driven by a specific focus on tackling back injuries and their role in lost time, in 2013 Air Canada teamed up with Pristine Condition, a British company that teaches techniques for lifting to reduce the risk of injury. Overall, says Elfassy, lost time injuries fell by 21 per cent in 2013, while days lost due to injuries fell 49 per cent.
In 2013 the airline also implemented a web-based cosmic radiation monitoring system for pilots and flight attendants, in conjunction with PCAire, even though there is no regulatory requirement to do so.
“I’ve seen an increase across the nation of commitment and support from the employer to the employees to communicate either through all the innovations in the systems or roadshows or town halls, and also just supporting the health and safety committees,” says Cheung.