How a Prison in the Mediterranean may change how I think about safety 

So here is a really weird question for you: 

What do Brene Brown, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant all have in common with a prison in Cyprus?

This is a two-part answer so stay with me on this. 

The other day I was listening to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast. On it, she was speaking with Simon Sinek and Adam Grant. Listening to the broadcast was like being a fly on the wall during a dinner with the three of them. To say the least, I was quite content to listen to it and may have to again. But I digress… 

There are a lot of similarities in their research and work with clients, yet all slightly different. One thing they all focus on is workplace behaviour, and trying to help people become high performers. Brene’s research has been focused on vulnerability and daring leaders in an organization to be open in order to connect with those around them. Adam is an organizational psychologist and Simon’s focus has been about finding your why. 

Now onto the second part of my answer… 

Last weekend, my husband and I were watching World’s Toughest Prisons on Netflix. This is something we both enjoy watching. One of the episodes of the latest season is about a prison in Cyprus, a little island in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Turkey. For years, this prison had a reputation for being very violent. Inmates would get beaten by the guards on a regular basis, just because they could. Then a new administrator took over running the prison. She had a very different mindset than her predecessors. Obviously it took time, but the facility has done a complete 180. Guards and inmates get along with one another, there is respect between them. Prisoners are given opportunities they didn’t have before.  

And what is most interesting, is that some of the guards that worked there under the old regime still work there. As individuals, they have changed how they work. They were given tools and were guided by the new administration to change their view on how to treat the inmates. 

So, back to my original question: what do Brene Brown, Simon Sinek and Adam Grant all have in common with a prison in the Mediterranean? 

They focus on positive behaviour in order to help individuals (no matter their level within the organization) become high achievers by helping them change their thought processes and therefore change their behaviours. 

As a safety professional, I look at all the different incidents that I have seen on site or look at what has been reported in the news, or the stories I hear from other safety professionals. What is most alarming to me is that, in my estimation, about 90% of most incidents that occur are happening because of human behaviour. Either someone did something they weren’t supposed to do, or they didn’t do something that they were supposed to do. 

I know there have been some research on the relationship between safety behaviour and incidents and try to change it but perhaps we need to focus on it more.  

Yes, we as safety professionals can try to inspire workers to do their best. But will it make a difference if a supervisor is willing and wanting to take shortcuts? Any type of culture change must start at the top. We know this. But how often does it actually happen? 

A high performer in a sales position will make the company money.  A high performer in safety will, in the short term, cost the company money.  

In my experience, not enough companies are doing enough to hold their supervisors accountable for their actions and all too willing to let go of the trades people. Or nothing will happen to either of them except a talking to and a slap on the wrist. Company leaders focus on a project managers relationship with the client but not necessarily about the relationship with the team or the people in the field. 

I am thinking we need to start taking the research and guidance from these three experts and start applying it to the world of occupational health & safety. Let’s focus on coaching our supervisors and not just the workers. Let’s talk to the leaders to see if they actually care about safety and if they want to invest the money they need into implementing good safety systems to correct the unsafe behaviours. Let’s have the CEOs put their money where their mouth is and start taking action to commit to helping to protect their workers and supervisors. 

As I was researching for this post, I came across this article on behaviour-based safety (BBS) programs. I know this has been in the industry for years. Unfortunately, I am not sure it has been utilized as well as it could be in the various industries, especially in construction. 

There was one project I was on where they tried to introduce BBS. We were told to watch workers, fill out cards and talk to them about what we observed. To say the least, the program did not go over well. There was not near enough training on the matter.

In the mean time, I am going to do more research on the matter and see if I can find small changes I might be able to implement on the job site. 

Have you implemented a behaviour-based safety program? How effective was it? What are your thoughts on the matter overall? Does it work on construction projects? I would love to hear from you! 

Are we looking at the mental impact of workplace incidents?

I have worked as a health & safety professional for the last 15 years. Compared to some people, this is not a long time. I met my mentor when I first started, and that was after he retired as a Ministry of Labour Inspector. At 77, I think he is now ready to retire.

But when you look at the changes to the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act, we have come a long way. Over the last 15 years, I have seen changes to the legislation regarding confined space requirements, noise levels, fall protection training, worker and supervisor safety awareness training, workplace violence & harassment, etc.

I made a comment about this just a couple weeks ago while running through orientation for new workers to site.

We are now telling workers that workplace violence and harassment is a zero-tolerance offense and you will be removed from site. As well, we are telling construction workers that it is okay to be vulnerable and talk about mental health issues.

If you live in Southern Ontario, or beyond, you have likely heard about an incident that occurred in Ajax a couple weeks ago. Two workers were injured and two others were killed when the trench they were working in collapsed.

As a member of the public, I feel sympathy for the workers who were there and their families for what they lost.

As safety professionals, we can all agree that this never should have happened. There are enough control measures that can be put into place to prevent something like this from happening. Unfortunately, we will never really know what truly happened.

As someone who struggles with mental health, and talks about mental health issues in the workplace, I think about the long-last effect this will have on the workers and their families.

If anyone of those workers were already struggling with mental health issues, whether it was depression, anxiety, addictions or PTSD, or some other diagnosis, an incident like this could really put them at a precipice. How many of these workers will ever enter a trench again, let alone be able to work in construction, or be able to work at all, because of what they witnessed?

I would hope that each and every one of those people on site that day, and even those in the rest of the company, and their families, are given the opportunity to work with grief counsellors to learn how to deal with this loss in a healthy way. I pray for recovery for all of them.

Even with all the changes to the Ontario legislation, fatalities are still happening. Workers are getting injured every day. We talk about the physical aspects of the injury. WSIB looks at the physical healing and a workers functional ability to work. But are we looking at the mental aspect of it?

If an injured worker is unable to do their job because of a physical impairment, do we talk about the potential of mental health issues and how that can impact their physical healing?

For so many people, who we are is very much tied to what we do. We identify ourselves as a wife, husband, parent, sibling, and whatever our job title is. When we meet new people, while getting to know them, one of the first questions we ask, “What do you do?”

If someone suddenly finds themself in a position where they are unable to do their job for an extended length of time, they are likely to start questioning who they are. If you have ever been laid off for any extended period (think 2008 recession), or more recently, during COVID when people were unable to work, think of the impact that had on you.

Employers, unions and WCB organizations need to make sure workers have the right resources available to them and their families who have be impacted, either directly or indirectly, by a workplace injury or fatality. Workers need to not be afraid, and even be encouraged, to ask for help if that time was to ever come.

Vulnerability is a strength and we need to be an example of that in the workplace. And perhaps talking about the physical and mental challenges that occur after a workplace incident may remind workers to not be as complacent.

Why I cringe when I watch TV

I have a confession to make. There are times when I will binge watch HGTV. I will sit on my couch all day long and watch a marathon of the latest and greatest home reno shows. The artist in me likes to see how they reno or modify a space.

At the same time, the safety professional in me cringes when I watch it, especially during demo activities. Sure, they are wearing work boots and safety glasses. Sometimes they will wear respiratory protection, though I wonder if they have been properly fitted for it (especially the guys with full beards). Rarely will they wear a hard hat even though there is debris falling all around them. Then when they get up on a roof, fall protection is even less frequent.

How many of them have been properly trained in using the skid steer, the EWP, the excavator, the forklift?

It is even worse when I see the women walking through an active construction site wearing frilly dresses and sandals. Or wait – when they bring their kids or dogs to the job site! What are they thinking?!

As most of these shows are in the US, I wonder if any OSHA inspectors watch these shows. And the few that are in Canada, do Ministry inspectors watch and have the same reaction as me.

For the producers of the show, I know they are trying to make money and make it as fascinating as they can to keep people watching. But is it too much to ask for them to make sure all participants are safe, following the minimum requirements of the legislation? Is there not a safety professional on site making sure the production team are safe? Why are they not also applying the same rules to the ‘performers’?

In Ontario, movies and TV sets, and other performing arts falls under the construction regulations. The regulations in Ontario can be very strict and specific in relation to what can and cannot be done. I know home builders have more challenges in following and maintaining a safe work site. Some contractors feel the rules don’t belong to them. And some small contractors (with only a handful of workers) think that safety is too expensive, time consuming, etc.

The other challenge is when homeowners see these shows, they think they can do that too. They don’t know how to protect themselves from getting injured. They just copy what they see on TV. I feel like the performers and cast should at least try to set an example for those watching.

Will I keep watching these shows? Mostly likely, especially to give me ideas as to how I can change things around my own house and annoy my husband. And when my mother-in-law visits, she will watch that or W Network. And I will watch it with her.

And I will still cringe and comment on it as I watch it about the ridiculous actions of those on the screen. What about you? Do you watch it and cringe or ignore it all together? Or do you just comment on it as your spouse is watches each episode?

Who is the Employer: the Frachisor or the Franchisee?

In Canada right now, there are over 76,000 franchises from about 1200 companies. Approximately 45% of all retail sales are generated by a franchised business. (Source: http://www.frnachise101.net)

A franchise, according to Franchise Direct Canada) is where a business owner (franchisor) grants to investors (franchisee) the right to operate a business in the manner and style the company has already developed.

As a franchisee, investing in an established business, have you reviewed and understood the requirements surrounding health and safety? In other words, does your franchise agreement identify who will manage your safety program?

There are some franchises where the parent company will conduct regular inspections and even control some aspects of the business. Depending on what this all includes will determine who really is the employer from a health and safety perspective.

There are some questions you need to ask when reviewing the franchise agreement. This will help determine who then is the employer.

  • Who will be reviewing and signing the safety policy on an annual basis?
  • Will there be any resources available for managing workplace injuries and investigations?
  • Will there be any resources available following a list of orders from the Ministry of Labour?
  • Who will be disciplining employees when they don’t follow the safety policies?
  • Who will be training and orientating new employees on the safety policies?

Over the last two years, the franchisor may have been providing additional guidance and information while managing the business during the pandemic. But outside of that, what, if any, support are they offering?

The general duty clause of taking all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the worker applies to the employer. You just need to be clear as to who the employer is: the franchisor or the franchisee.

Do not be afraid to consult a safety professional, like Spencer Safety Solutions, to review your safety program to ensure you are meeting the requirements as an employer under the Occupational Health & Safety Act.

Why to Complete a Year-End Safety Review

The new year is about to arrive (or has arrived, depending on when you are reading this). It is often the time when we take a review of our lives to see how we want to improve, what we want to stop doing, what we should start doing.

On a personal level, new year’s resolutions tend to only last a few weeks. But if we identify them as goals as opposed to resolutions, and make a plan on how to implement them, they are more likely to be sustained a bit longer.

When you look at your small business, are you setting goals for yourself and your business? Have you taken the opportunity to look at the past year to see what has worked and what hasn’t? How can you improve going into the next year?

In the safety world, this is a time when we look at all the incidents and near misses that occurred during the last year and look for patterns. In other words, do people tend to get hurt the same way, at the same time? What parts of the body are getting injured? 

Admittedly, this is one thing I really like doing as part of my job. I love to review all of the incidents and analyze them to look for any potential patterns.

When I worked with a long-term care home, I noticed that most injuries tended to occur while they were getting residents in or out of bed. At one construction company I worked for, interestingly enough, most injuries occurred between morning break and lunch. Another time, many injuries were happening to hands since they tended to forget to wear gloves.

When a company takes the time to review its incidents, it is an opportunity to improve the safety program. Based on what comes up during the review, one area may need more attention than others.  For example, if there are many hand injuries because workers are not wearing gloves, then a focus on PPE may be necessary. Or it could mean that some policies need to be updated to reflect changes based on investigation findings or the workers need to be retrained on the policies.

When analyzing the incidents, there are a number of aspects to look at, depending on the workforce or scope of work. You can look at gender, age, employment status, length of service – which are all based on the workers. You can also review the body part that was injured, the type of injury (burn, laceration, repetitive strain, etc.), direct and indirect cause of injury (slipped on a wet floor (direct) due to poor maintenance (indirect)). Lastly, the day of the week and time of day can also be analyzed. 

The incident review can be as detailed or vague as you want. But it can give you some great insight into your incidents and how your workers are completing their jobs. It also gives you an idea as to whether they are applying their training.

Additionally, this type of review is not just restricted to year-end. It can be done monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. It all depends on your business, the number of incidents, etc. It also depends on how much time you have and if you have someone dedicated to doing the analysis. It can be a bit time-consuming if you have a lot of incidents and want an in-depth review. 

Once you have the information compiled, what you do with the information, is up to you, as the small business owner. As mentioned earlier, policies can be reviewed, updated and communicated. Training can be redone.

As with many things knowledge is power; but it is what you do with that information that determines how much power you have. Knowledge and power can determine the success of your business. Use the information you have gathered (or been given) and implement the necessary changes to improve your safety program. 

Improve your safety program, decrease the likelihood of injury or illness to your workers, decrease the likelihood of production being interrupted by investigations, charges and stop-work orders.

Spencer Safety Solutions can assist in completing a year-end review for your small business. Reach out to us today at www.spencersafetysolutions.ca

Happy New Year Everyone!