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Safety is not a numbers game

By Mari-Len De Guzman

This year, 13 organizations shone the brightest through the extraordinary work they do to achieve and maintain safety culture excellence in their workplaces — and even beyond. In addition to the top five winning companies, we are also recognizing eight other companies as Silver Recipients, for their extraordinary effort in keeping and maintaining safe workplaces.

In interviewing some of these companies for the cover feature — talking to both management and field personnel — there seems to be a common denominator among these companies: A belief that safety is more than a numbers game.

While it’s true zero is a better number than one or more, when it comes to injuries and incidents, it may not be an accurate indication of a safe workplace. That zero can turn into a one or a two, in an instant.

Alan Quilley makes this same point in his column in the Aug./Sept. issue of COS magazine. He believes zero or even low injury numbers on their own do not make a safe company. It makes for a lucky company — but not necessarily a “safe” company.

Many companies with mature health and safety management systems would agree that maintaining a safe workplace takes more than just keeping the numbers down. Our CSE winners definitely recognize this and have tailored their programs and policies based on this belief.

Instead of constantly watching the numbers, companies that “get it” rely on leading indicators to guide them on prevention efforts. Full buy-in from employees is needed to succeed in capturing these leading indicators — reporting near misses, raising health and safety issues and concerns, identifying hazards and even offering positive observations.

Those we’re recognizing this year as Canada’s Safest Employers have put in place systems that encourage employees to speak up about their safety and well-being at work. They have management teams that are fully and actively supportive of initiatives that promote and increase safety in their workplaces.

Quality, not quantity. Leading, not lagging indicators. These are not new concepts. But we do need to constantly play this up among employers, before they get too bogged down by the numbers.

On behalf of Canadian Occupational Safety, I congratulate the 2012 winners of Canada’s Safest Employers Award. Hats off to all those who nominated their organizations as well — you all deserve to be recognized for your efforts in maintaining healthy and safe workplaces we can all be proud of.

Mari-Len De Guzman

Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and
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