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From high risk to risk mitigation

By Amanda Silliker

SASM sets goal for manufacturing to be ‘as safe as the average of all firms in Sask.’

Ken Ricketts has always been predicated towards high risk. He raced motorcycles on ice, worked as a guide for wilderness white-water rafting, installed pipelines in extremely remote locations and built ice roads in the Northwest Territories.

“I did the jobs that no one else wanted,” he says.

Ricketts decided to use his inclination towards risk to help other companies learn how to mitigate it. In 2011 he became the executive director of the Safety Association of Saskatchewan Manufacturers (SASM).

“High hazard work or play requires you to ask over and over ‘What could go wrong?’ because the result of something going wrong could quickly become catastrophic,” he says. “An event that could injure a worker to a minor degree takes on a whole different level of importance when the nearest assistance is hundreds of kilometres away.”

SASM is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the prevention of injuries in the manufacturing sector. It has a membership of 250 firms, representing 9,000 workers.

“We work with people from dairies to people building huge equipment for the oil patch. (From) agricultural machinery manufacturers to electronics manufacturers,” says Ricketts. “We want to get the manufacturers to be as safe as the average of all firms in Saskatchewan. We want to turn high risk at least into low or less than average impact.”

The association offers a wide variety of safety training courses to its members. Its most effective offering is the supervisor course.

“Any firm that has had our supervisor training, when upper management has been in the room taking the same course, typically their incident rate has gone down by 50 per cent in six months,” says Ricketts.

SASM’s train-the-trainer courses set it apart from other associations. Some of these courses include adult learning theory, forklift operation, respiratory protection, WHMIS and crane safety.

“We provide the training that allows them to train their own workers,” says Ricketts. “We try to make it possible for the manufacturers to be as independent of us as possible.”

SASM has recently started conducting air quality testing for members  and it will soon be advising them on permissible exposure limits (PELs). With other provinces such as Ontario and Manitoba looking at the PELs, it’s likely Saskatchewan will be considering making changes shortly as well, says Ricketts, and they want to be ahead of the game.

Going forward, SASM will be expanding its consulting offerings around ergonomics because that’s the number 1 type of injury in manufacturing, says Ricketts. 

Another area of focus will be on Training Within Industry (TWI), a dynamic approach to training that was developed in the United States during the Second World War. It is an essential element of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement programs around the world, including the Toyota Production System.

“It’s how to train workers in the most complete and quickest manner but to make certain they know their tasks, and it takes a fair amount of work going into it, actually it’s a lot of work, but once you’re into it, you can train workers way quicker, more completely and with less pain than we typically are at this time,” says Ricketts.

Certification options

SASM’s Certificate of Recognition (COR) program has three levels. The bronze level is designed to assist firms that are just developing their safety management system. It requires compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) regulations. The silver level is much more robust and gets into international standards such as meeting the requirements for the OHSAS 18001 and CSA Z1000 occupational health and safety management standards. It also requires continuous improvement until the firm is in the best performing 30 per cent of the industry.

“Any of the firms we have certified at the silver level, typically, their injury rate is lower than the average of all workplaces in Saskatchewan, so they are working in a high-risk industry and they have a below average injury rate,” says Ricketts.

The highest level of certification is the gold level — and no company has achieved this level to date, or even tried to reach it.

“It’s really, really hard. It’s 100 per cent culture, where the concept of doing something that would or could hurt you or someone else is just not acceptable,” says Ricketts. “It’s returning them to what they were when they were a four-person firm, when they were working right beside their brother, father, mother and they just wouldn’t allow you to get hurt.”

If a company is interested in achieving certification, SASM will go out to the workplace to conduct a gap analysis. The company has about six months to correct any shortfalls. Once it has done so, it undergoes an audit from SASM to determine if it qualifies for certification.

“They (the auditors) lift the covers, if you will. They spend a lot of time with paperwork and a lot of time on the floor. The interview questions are very specific and we try to get as much information as possible and take it from there,” says Ricketts.

The association has put a lot of work into helping manufacturers boost their safety culture, and Ricketts is very proud of the improvements members have made. Last year, one-half of SASM members did not have a WCB claim and 60 per cent did not have a lost-time claim.

“Based on the claim and injury statistics for the entire rate code or industry category, SASM members come from six of the eight categories in Saskatchewan with the greatest risk,” he says. “But our members are also improving much faster than average… which is really impressive.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Canadian Occupational Safety.

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