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CEOs take lead in workers’ safety

By Mari-Len De Guzman

Top executives from some of Canada's largest organizations gathered at the Partners in Prevention Conference this week to talk about best practices and the important role chief executives play in creating a culture of safety in the organization. Executives from Habitat for Humanity Canada, Trillium Health Centre, Siemens Canada and Sodexo Canada participated in the forum.

The greatest organizations are those that do more than just compliance, especially when implementing health and safety policies and programs.

In order to create a culture of safety in the organization, company leaders need to set the tone from the top and continually reinforce it to all employees.

It’s the people who are ultimately going to make the workforce safe.

These are words spoken by top executives from some of Canada’s biggest employers in a panel session discussing the role corporate leaders play in influencing the culture of an organization.

“Sometimes as senior leaders, you don’t know how much you’re looked at by your organization; but you’re looked at a lot,” said Dean Johnson, president and CEO of Sodexo Canada Limited, a provider of outsourced services, employing more than 10,000 employees in 750 sites globally.

As a global outsourcer, Sodexo needs to maintain a high level of safety excellence, Johnson said, as more clients become increasingly focused on health and safety and expect the same of their supplier partners.

CEOs must always find ways to reach out and engage the employees, said Michelle DiEmanuele, president and CEO of the newly merged Credit Valley Hospital and Trillium Health Centre.

DiEmanuele pointed out one of her best learning experiences is when she goes on regular hospital rounds with doctors and nurses. She takes these sessions as an opportunity to talk to staff about issues they may have, including health and safety concerns.

“I invented Undercover Boss,” she joked, pointing out building relationships with the staff is one of the best things a CEO or corporate leader can do to engage workers.

The boardroom is the easiest place to make a change, she said, because that is where authority resides. The hardest place to institute change is in the employee level, she pointed out.

Great ideas may come from the boardroom, but executives should also consider how enforcing these ideas would affect the workers on the floor, she said.

For Bill Smith, Siemens Canada’s senior vice-president, energy sector, top executives should take advantage of the knowledge and skills safety professionals bring to the table.

“We should not overlook the role played by our own safety professionals,” said Smith, adding safety professionals often act as the safety coach for both the leadership and individual employees.

Looking out for the health and safety of the people who work in an organization is the ultimate goal, regardless of the type of organization one is in.

Charity organizations, for example, may have unique workplace safety challenges — mainly because their personnel is mostly made up of temporary, volunteer workers — but they are held to the same standards as any organization when it comes to ensuring that workers go home safe and healthy at the end of a work day.

This is why the centre of Habitat for Humanity’s safety culture lies on training and education, said Stewart Hardacre, president and CEO, Habitat for Humanity Canada.

Over the last 25 years, more than one million people have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity Canada, building more than 2,000 homes across the country.

“I think historically, I suspect that non-profit organizations or charities perhaps weren’t held to the same health and safety standards. That’s not true today,” said Hardacre.

“I think that perception maybe still out there, and what that does is challenges us to ensure that we’re educating all of the people involved with Habitat around the fact that health and safety practices are important to us.”

The CEOs participating in the Partners in Prevention session, View from the Top, all agreed that safety should be treated as an investment, not as an expense.

Workplace Safety and Prevention Services Elizabeth Mills urged CEOs to be more engaged in workplace safety. The WSPS, along with other partners, is spearheading the revitalization of the province’s CEO Safety Charter, a declaration of corporate leaders’ commitment to health and safety in the workplace.

Mills called on CEOs to participate in a consultation process WSPS is initiating to come up with better ways to take advantage of the CEO Safety Charter and get corporate leaders more involved in the health and safety aspect of their organization.

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