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!


How Small Busniesses can Meet Due DIligence

In 2018, an article was published by OSG, which was written by associates of LeClair and Associates PC. In it, the law firm provided an overview of a case where a small business successfully fought a due diligence charge following a workplace fatality. 

The article does not identify how small the business was but that it specialized in transporting heavy equipment. They did not have an in-house health and safety specialist but were able to meet the necessary standards and requirements, even with the fatality.

One might wonder how that happened.

This small business had all the necessary safety policies, completed the required training (including the owner), had safe work practices in place for moving the specialized equipment, held safety meetings, completed equipment inspections, etc.

Now one might then ask how they had a fatality if they had everything in place. It came down to operator error.

Operator error might seem like a cop-out since the worker died. In this case though, there was no history of having to discipline the worker for failing to follow procedure and had been witnessed completing the tasks properly in the past. And with the systems they had in place, the employer met his due diligence.

The interesting part of the defence’s argument was their questioning the definition of ‘reasonable’. Basically, they argued that ‘reasonable’ is not the same as ‘perfection’, especially for small businesses. If the employer had all the required systems and steps in place then they have done what is reasonable. The judge in this case agreed that, as a small business, their resources and capabilities are going to be less than that of a large corporation. 

The court also agreed that it is not always reasonable for a supervisor or manager to be everywhere all the time. In other words, a small crew may be left unsupervised at times. Depending on the scope of work, the supervisor might not be aware of the specifics of how exactly a worker is supposed to do the work, especially for specialized work.

For small businesses, there are some things for them to consider regarding due diligence and doing everything ‘reasonable’ to protect themselves and their workers.

  1. Owners and managers of small businesses need to be proactive, encouraging safe behaviour and doing what is required of them.
  2. Ensure the necessary safety policies are in place, that workers are trained on them, and understand and follow them.
  3. Ensure supervisors are fully trained on their responsibilities and have an understanding of the scope of work they are supervising.
  4. Have a trained health and safety worker representative or Joint Health and Safety Committee and ensure they are meeting the legislative standards regarding meetings and inspections.
  5. Document! Document! Document! Remember, if it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen. Document supervisor notes, inspections, safety meetings, toolbox talks, etc.
  6. Ensure all workers have the required training based on their work activities. This includes WHMIS, 4 Steps to Health and Safety Awareness Training, and any other industry-specific training that may be needed. 
  7. Ensure all equipment inspections are completed and documented, and employees are trained on how to use the equipment.
  8. Use the guidance of a health and safety consultant to assist in meeting these guidelines. Small business owners are not always able to manage safety on their own. They might not have the knowledge or experience.

Oftentimes, trying to meet all of the regulatory requirements may seem overwhelming. Even when I worked for a large organization as the safety manager, there were times when I was overwhelmed. The extent of this feeling was contributed to by a lack of support and follow-through by owners, managers and supervisors.

The more support an owner or manager has, the more likely they will be willing and able to work toward meeting the requirements around health and safety and the protection of their workers.

COVID, Stress and Mental Health

As I write this it is Thanksgiving Day. A day to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives. Some days that is easier said than done.

Just over four months ago, I started a new job as a H&S Manager. It was a great opportunity; a position I had always dreamed of having. Starting this position in the middle of a pandemic was not what I had in mind. It was not part of the dream.

I am the type of person who does not watch the news. It is not because I want to be an ostrich with my head in the sand. The way I look at it is there is enough negativity in the world, in my world, that I don’t need to invite more of it into my world by watching or reading the news.

Unfortunately, as a policy maker in the middle of a pandemic, I have a certain responsibility to stay up to date with what is happening. Do I watch it everyday, no. I look for brief updates online to get the main information I need.

On the news and social media, you see how this pandemic has impacted health care workers. In my organization we employ Paramedics and operate Long Term Care homes. I see first hand how this has impacted the employees and the managers of these departments.

Here is what you don’t see in the news or is talked about: How are the policy makers handling the stress of COVID-19? I have to admit that as someone who already deals with mental health issues, I struggle some days with all the questions, multiple scenarios and how I am supposed to direct and support the leadership team through the storms.

As I said, I hate watching the news. It really annoys me when the governments send out updates on a Friday afternoon giving us very little time to respond for the following Monday morning. Sometimes it feels like the information is just being regurgitated and recycled.

I had this dilemma brought to my attention the other day: A few guys were doing some road maintenance. It was raining during their lunch break. They both sat in their truck to eat lunch. Obviously, they can’t wear their masks while in close proximity to one another and eat their lunch. How are we supposed to protect their health and safety.

This is just one example of the questions. I have days where the first hour is just dealing with questions regarding COVID management.

I feel like I am repeating myself half the time as well to staff who essentially ask the same question in different scenarios but already have the answer, which was explained in the Q&A they were supposed to have read. They are not able to apply the answers based on the information they already have so they feel the need to ask it. Again.

And, yes, I know this is all part of my job but some days the job really sucks. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. And, no, I am not trying to under value the struggles that health care workers and teachers are going through by any means. And, yes, I know I just started four sentences in a row with the word `and`.

All I am saying is the policy makers also have to admit they are struggling with managing the fall out of the pandemic. It is our job to think of the worst-case scenarios, or every possible situation that might occur in order to write, implement and communicate the policies and procedures. We have to check all of the new information that comes out hourly, daily, weekly to make sure we are still doing what we need to do to protect our employees. If not, we have to re-write, re-implement, and re-communicate the updated policy – again and again.

Our job is to prevent our employees from getting sick or injured. Something like this pandemic, where the prevention is mostly behaviour-based, can be difficult to manage as the employer. I know is will get better as time goes by and in the meantime, we take it one day at a time.

if you are a policy maker, how are you managing with the struggles of the constant updates, re-writes, questions? Please share as maybe what you are doing will help someone else.

The worst I have ever seen

I applied for a new job a few months ago. This was what I considered my dream job. I prepared for it like never before in my life.

I researched the organization. I looked at their social media. I talked to someone who used to work there to get insights on the company and the people who were interviewing me. I did a practice interview with an employment services company. I wanted this job!

During my practice interview, the question came up of what was the worst infraction you have ever seen. Sometimes it may be hard to answer a question like this but for some people there are some that really stick out in your mind.

The first one that came to mind, which I shared with her, was a time when a lead hand jumped down off a scaffold in front of me.

This was on one of the first construction sites I had ever worked. I had been on the site for about a year, maybe just under by this point. At its peak, there were about 1200 people on this job site. Many of them I knew by name and others by sight.

One day, I was doing a walk through and as I came down a set of stairs, I see a guy standing on the outside of an L-shaped scaffold unit with his feet on each corner, outside of the guardrails. He felt that was the best way to reach the equipment he was working on.

On this site, like many, the height restriction was 6 ft. If one was going to be working above 6 ft, fall protection needed to be worn. I am about 5’6″, 5’7″ with my work boots on. With my hard hat on, I am shy of 6′. When assessing height, I judged that if I had to look up at your feet, you are most likely at or above six feet. I had to look up at this guy’s feet. Not to mention that he was outside of the guardrails.

I asked him to come down to talk to me. How do you think he got down? Did he climb over the guard rail and come down the ladder? Nope. He jumped. He jumped off the scaffold onto the ground in front of me. I have to admit I was shocked for a moment that he would have the gall to do that in front of me.

I said to him, “Give me one good reason why I should not have you removed from the job site right now.” Failing to follow fall protection protocols was grounds for immediate removal from the job site. He was trying to justify why he was where he was. He did not have an answer. He did not have an answer for why he jumped down off the scaffold.

I called his supervisor and the safety manager for his crew. I explained to them what I observed and that he was to be removed from the site. I went back to the safety office and explained to my boss what I had witnessed. Within 15 minutes of that conversation, I had the employee’s supervisor, the company’s safety manager, the union rep, one of my colleagues and my boss all second-guessing my decision. “Janice, are you sure this is what you want to do?”

I ended up having to go out and specifically measure the height of the scaffold. In fact, when I went out there, the employee was still there and he measured it. It was about 6’3″.

It wasn’t even just about him being above the six feet, it was also the fact that he jumped down off the scaffold in front of me. He showed no remorse for what he had done. If he hadn’t jumped down in front of me, I may have asked his supervisor to write him up for the infraction and let him stay. I am usually willing to work with people, be reasonable about things. But because of that extra step he had taken, I was not willing to let him off the hook. He was gone from the site by lunch.

A few months later, I was on another job site, with a different company. When I started there, I was told, “Janice, do not make any waves.” I.e. keep your mouth shut.

At the time, the crews were working 4-10s – 4 days, 10 hour shifts. I was lucky enough to be working on a Friday when one of the contractors was working overtime. I was doing a casual walk-through as there was not much going on that day. I got to one area and turned around just to see what was going on around me. In that moment, I witnessed the second worst infraction I had ever witnessed. By second worst, I don’t mean it was not as bad as the other one, but another bad infraction.

The moment I turned around, I witnessed an employee conduct a Tarzan swing with his vertical lifeline over an opening that was 8 ft across and 5 ft deep. I could not believe what I had witnessed.

I approached the Construction Manager who was on site that day and informed him of what I saw. He basically told me to leave it alone; they were behind schedule. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave it alone. I knew the safety manager for that contractor from a previous job and I called him, off the record. I explained what happened and where I saw it as I could not tell who it was. He said he would take care of it. I also called my boss and told him. He was glad I had reported it and told me he would back me up all the way.

The following Monday, the employee was fired. A short while later, I was laid off as they had nothing for me to do.

When these situations occurred, I was not a CRSP. I did not have a professional code that I needed to live up to as part of my professional designation. I was fairly new to the industry. Few people knew me. I could have walked away but I couldn’t because of my own moral compass. I knew it was wrong and I had to report it. As well, because I was new and making a name for myself, I had to think of my professional reputation. If I backed away in the first situation, I would have been deemed a pushover. People would have thought they could walk all over me. It is hard enough being a woman in this industry but to be thought of as a pushover would not have helped.

As a safety professional, we always have choices. There are ways to handle situations. Some good and some not so good. We also have to think about our own integrity, our morals, our ethics. What choices will you make today?

Thank you for reading this. Share some of your worst infractions or a time when you have to make a choice like I did.

The opinions of this blog are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of my employer or previous employers. Company and employee names will never be shared.