County of Wellington is the gold winner in the public sector and non-profit category for the 2014 Canada's Safest Employers Awards
With staff working in areas as diverse as roads, libraries and long-term care, promoting health and safety in the public sector is a huge undertaking.
But with an emphasis on fun, education and support from senior management, the County of Wellington, a municipal government in southwest Ontario, has been successful in keeping its workforce healthy and focused on safe practices.
“We just have such diversity in people’s skill sets, people’s education levels, people’s hours of work, the legislation they have to work within — it’s all so different but I think that one key factor that brings them together is this commitment to health and safety,” says human resources supervisor Melanie Shaye.
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Making safety more exciting has been the key to participation, explains health and safety co-ordinator Michele Richardson.
“Anything that can make people smile, they enjoy and now we have healthy workers and happy workers and they tend to get hurt less.”
One such initiative is Safety Speaks, which empowers employees to feel comfortable bringing their health and safety concerns forward to their supervisors. The program, which encourages a proactive rather than reactive approach, is introduced to employees in their orientation period and has been successful in preventing minor issues from escalating, says Richardson.
“They’re the eyes and the ears out there and they can really make the biggest difference in whether or not we have a safe workplace and we tell them right from day one that if you see something that’s a concern, bring it forward,” she adds.
Employees are also recognized for their efforts towards promoting health and safety in the field through the “Thanks, Let Me Buy You a Coffee” program. Through the initiative, a supervisor who sees a worker doing a task safely, rather than cutting corners, can give him a Tim Horton’s gift card.
The county looks at health and safety differently than other government agencies, explains Shaye. Although policies and procedures are in place and work well, the organization does not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Also, managers who bring concerns forward know they are going to get support from senior management to make the necessary changes.
The county communicates safety messages in numerous ways, including poster blitzes for “hot” safety topics and workplace-specific personal safety guidelines that touch on the unique risks of each specific area.
“If we want to keep health and safety in the forefront, in the minds of the front-line workers, the best way to do that is communication and education, and if we can do that and have fun at the same time, we feel we’ve got a recipe for a win-win,” says Richardson.