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Meet the 2016 Safety Leader of the Year

Adrian Khan, EHS manager at Mother Parkers Tea and Coffee, takes home the annual award
By Amanda Silliker
| Canadian Occupational Safety

When Adrian Khan first started at Mother Parkers Tea and Coffee in Mississauga, Ont., he was not happy with the high number of ergonomic injuries. Being a manufacturing plant, the 750 workers are subject to many different ergonomic hazards and Khan wanted this subject to get the attention it deserved.

“We wanted to have a dedicate team, looking at ergonomic hazards in the workplace to address these and put corrective actions in place to prevent further injuries from happening,” says Khan, the company’s environmental health and safety manager for North American operations.

To address this, Khan started an ergonomics committee in 2015. Committee members represent job functions from across the facility and use different tools and assessments to determine if there are any improvements that can be made to work stations and job tasks. They observe the tasks being performed and interview the workers.

“We encourage them to speak to the employees to see if there is any discomfort. If anyone is having back pain or shoulder pain or any type of discomfort, we look at the things they are doing and look at their job from a step-by-step process to see how we can improve it,” says Khan.

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Ergonomics committee members are trained as part of a three-day event in which the team will blitz a work area to identify opportunities for improvement.

Just like the joint health and safety committee (JHSC), the ergonomics committee meets on a monthly basis but focuses specifically on ergonomics. Meeting minutes and action plans are posted on the ergonomics communication board — a 6 by 8 foot board in the manufacturing plant that all workers walk by several times per day.

Mother Parkers has already seen a 40 per cent reduction in injuries in the committee’s first year.

The introduction and success of the ergonomics committee is just one reason why Khan is the winner of the 2016 Safety Leader of the Year award, presented by Canadian Occupational Safety.

“Adrian is really inspirational, passionate and has a drive for health and safety,” says his boss Janet Nagy, human resources manager for Canadian operations, who nominated him for the award. “It’s not just about what he does, it’s very much about who he is and how he leverages his natural strengths to create the safety culture in place at Mother Parkers.”

One thing that makes Khan a great safety leader is his exceptional communication skills.

“Whether he sat in front of the president of our company or whether he is in front of brand new employees, he has a great ability of being able to relate to people,” says Mike Bate, vice-president of HR. “It makes a difference because people feel comfortable talking to him and working with him.”

When it comes to communicating with the front-line, Khan is out on the shop floor every day translating specific health and safety-related directions and initiatives to the hourly employees, says Mark Hamilton, director of Canadian operations for tea and coffee.

“He really does take the time to help people understand the direction we are going,” he says. “He is involved in every level and it doesn’t matter what that might be.”

Khan also made sure the JHSC boards were standardized, so all facilities have the same communications. The boards include regulatory posters as well as minutes, KPIs (key performance indicators), inspection reports, policies, lessons learned and goals.

Khan’s communication skills extend upward as well as he knows what needs to be done for the business, which bodes well with upper management.

“He is an exceptionally good planner and project manager. He has a vision and plan, not just for what needs to get done today to improve our health and safety practices across the company but what we can be doing next year and the year after that,” says Bate. “There is a very clear road map that he has helped bring to Mother Parkers and that we are working towards.”

Of course there are some twists and turns in the road, Bate adds, but Khan provides regular status updates and ways to course correct as needed. He also communicates milestones and metrics to senior leaders. To do this, Khan put in place a comprehensive data collection system. This system allows the recording, trending and investigation of all types of safety incidents, near-misses and various conditions across the organization.

Khan also does an excellent job at engaging employees in health and safety. For example, he attends all JHSC meetings and there has been a significant shift among that group over the past few years, says Bate.

“Our health and safety committees are now engaged, they have plans, they have ideas, people’s voices get heard and when they bring issues on the table, those issues get dealt with and they get addressed and they are part of the planning process,” he says.

Khan also spearheads an annual Health and Safety Day which involves local utilities, emergency services and health and safety partners.

“I know health and safety is sometimes not the most exciting, sometimes it can be boring, but I try to engage everyone to be participative,” he says. “Maybe they are just doing it at work because they have to, but it is about engraining this into their day-to-day lives, so making safety off the job just as important as safety on the job.”

To further engage workers, Khan is committed to making sure they are part of the solution.

“We rely heavily on our employees when we are looking to implement corrective actions. When it comes down to it, they are the experts running the machines who know exactly what the hazards are in the workplace, so we look to them to relate that information to us,” he says.

One example is when the company was purchasing an ergonomic roll lifter, it involved front-line workers in the process.

“Instead of going out and buying a roll lifter and saying, ‘Here it is,’ we had the employees and ergonomics committee involved in testing the roll lifter to see which was the best fit for their application,” says Khan.

As Mother Parkers was raising its OHS game, employees were asking what was being done about contractors.

“Generally, contractors are on site and they are doing something that is out of the norm; it’s not a normal part of our operation and that by its very nature creates risk from a health and safety perspective,” says Bate.

To address this, Khan put a contractor management program in place where all the expectations and standards are set before an external firm arrives on site. By the time these workers arrive, they understand the risks, they bring the proper protective equipment that may be required and they understand what they need from Mother Parkers to work safely, says Bate.

“It just makes things a lot easier for everybody involved, not the least of which is for the employees to see them working on site and they realize they are being held to a standard that is a least equivalent to what we hold our employees to,” he says.

Khan was also responsible for standardizing health and safety across all Mother Parkers locations: four manufacturing plants, two distribution centres and one corporate office. The project began with a hazard assessment at all the facilities to identify gaps and, from there, programs were developed and training completed to ensure controls were in place, says Khan.

“Now when you go to any of the facilities, we have a Mother Parkers best practice, so we go above and beyond the legislation,” he says.

Khan’s strong health and safety education and experience goes a long way in ensuring success at Mother Parkers, says Bate. He holds an environmental management degree from the University of Toronto and an OHS certificate from Ryerson University in Toronto. He is also a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). 

“He brings realistic solutions based on his education and experience,” Bate says. “It makes it so much better when yes, it’s good to identify opportunities for improvement, but to then be able to marry that up with specific actions that can mitigate risks and deal with issues we find.”

And if Khan doesn’t know the answer, he reaches out to support groups in the community, says Nagy. He is a member of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Safety Groups Program, which includes best practice sharing and program development. He is also a member of the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network, a group of leaders brought together by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services to shape health and safety policy and spur transformation on a large scale.

Given that sustainability initiatives are very important to Mother Parkers, Khan’s ability to work independently at a high level and to lead is extremely important to the company, says Joe Navin, vice-president of operations.

“From a senior level in the organization, we have extreme value for Adrian,” he says.

Navin also sites the high quality of Khan’s work and his ability to work with partners inside and outside the company as other reasons for his award-winning safety leadership.

“I have always said, ‘Give me someone who is smart and hungry and they will get the job done and we will work together and teach them what they need to know,’ but with Adrian we have not had to do much teaching, he has been teaching us.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of COS. 

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