2020 was a watershed year for the occupational health and safety profession. As with almost all sectors, the sector has been affected in a multitude of ways. And it is a trend that we have seen across all industries, notably highly affected areas like construction, manufacturing and healthcare, which have long been the domain of safety consultants and OHS specialists at large.
Though many workers have shifted to working from home, a number of essential workers are still operating on the frontlines. In fact, many workplace safety specialists have been working on the frontlines for over a year now.
“The pandemic has created significant health and safety challenges. We feel particularly privileged to help organizations continue to protect their people and create safer workplaces amidst these challenges,” Says Greg Thomson, CEO of winning organization Occupational Safety Group (OSG).
Though health and safety professionals have had to deal with epidemics before – many safety pros cut their teeth on the SARS outbreak in 2002 – the scale of these challenges has been unprecedented.
And so, the big question for safety consultants was, “how do we actually advise employers and help them through something that none of us have experienced before?” Says Wes Mazur, president of winning organization Spark Safety Solutions.
One thing that safety consultants all agree on is that the pandemic has impacted their role. The specialists we spoke to say that the demands of their clients have been numerous, and sometimes different to what they have been used to.
“It think [the pandemic] has increased [our role] tenfold,” says Andrea Crittenden, president and CEO of Sixteen Safety Services, Inc, another winner.
“This is definitely something that would be placed on the safety plate […] It just adds to our very valuable and long list of items that are part of our job description and part of our person. It goes hand in hand,” says Crittenden.
In some ways, the profession has not changed at all, given that the aim of workplace safety specialists has always been safeguarding employees against any and all threats.
In other ways of course, the profession has shifted irrevocably. New concerns have emerged: for those working from home, ergonomics and mental health have been key concerns. For those working on-site, ensuring that employers have access and a proper understanding of COVID-19 guidelines has been essential.
“Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique health and safety challenges for all businesses. It has been our privilege to help employers protect their people,” says Lynn Brownell, President and CEO, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), one of our winners.
“It’s quite a trying time for the sector,” says Crittenden. “For the most part, the safety person out there is busy with maintaining the health and safety of others and mitigating COVID-19 transmissions. Every safety professional I’ve spoken to has just been so incredibly busy.”
And, she says, it of course affects anybody that operates within essential or allowable businesses. And this encompasses a range of clients both old and new.
Some of the challenges raised by the pandemic have of course been focused around ensuring compliance with the new guidelines. Safety consultants have needed to address client’s concerns around how to respect COVID-19 guidelines, but more broadly how to still provide joint health and safety committee training, how to still function and be part of the economy, and support employees financially.
Pandemic planning and ensuring continuity of business have been in massive demand – not just to face the current COVID-19 crisis but looking towards the future too.
One of the big questions that clients were asking, says Mazur, was “do you have a pandemic response plan that we can have as part of our safety manual?”
Another integral part of health and safety is also training. Mazur mentions that one of the main services that he offers is classroom training. With the pandemic, he has had to shift to a virtual classroom and distance learning.
For safety consultants in the same position, they have had to “make sure that the customers were still receiving quality training and being compliant,” says Mazur.
“[The pandemic] has, in many ways, forced safety consultants or safety professionals to think outside the box – even more than what we thought the box looked like,” says Mazur.
The most important thing for safety pros has been to find creative solutions to ensure that employers are still achieving compliance regardless of the pandemic.
Perhaps a bright spot in this whole pandemic has been that safety professionals are finally getting their due. Being a safety consultant, or being an OHS professional within an organization can sometimes be a lonely affair. The role has maybe been misunderstood or even overlooked.
The pandemic has provided visibility to the profession – and vindication:
“The safety professional has been preaching [health and safety] for many years, but nobody was listening,” says Mazur. “All of a sudden, everyone is asking for it.”
Though health and safety professionals are not infectious disease specialists per se, they have knowledge of safety legislation and regulations and were able to help employers apply and implement those requirements. This has manifested in the aforementioned virtual training or help with pandemic planning.
At the end of the day, it seems only fair to shine a light on the heroes of this profession; individuals and organizations that have strived to ensure business continuity as well as to keep workers healthy and safe.
Our five-star safety consultants awards program aims to highlight the best in class, as chosen by our readership. New to the pages of COS, this recognition is here to stay. This distinction is a particularly valuable one, as it was based on the insights of other safety professionals – a highly covetable endorsement which is not lost on our winners.
“Thank you to the health and safety professionals across Ontario who selected WSPS as their choice for the 5-Star Safety Consultant award. When our partners and customers let us know that they like working with us, we consider it such an honour,” says Brownell.
Similarly, Thomson says: “Our passion is empowering organizations, leaders, and employees to build resilient cultures of workplace safety, so we are truly honoured to be recognized with this award.”
Indeed, this award is a testament to the hard work that our winners have put in when faced with the novel changes of the pandemic.
“The efforts and the passion that we have for true health and safety are shining through,” says Crittenden.
“It’s a very welcome surprise,” says Mazur. “This is a really nice affirmation for me that this company is successful, and that our quest to bring safety to life, as we say, is happening and being recognized by the industry. Ultimately it’s a celebration of our team and our team’s dedication to do so.”
Over the last three months our researchers have interviewed and surveyed thousands of safety professionals across Canada to find out who they recognise as Canada’s best safety consultants. We surveyed these safety professionals through Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, and through the organization Threads of Life, asking them who they believe the best safety consultants in Canada are.
Participants rated safety consultants across a range of criteria, asking them to assign numerical scores to the companies’ performance. A shortlist was created based on the collated results of 1,800 votes from safety professionals across the country. In addition to surveys, our research team conducted in-depth interviews with safety professionals in Canadian companies, and safety advisors.
Based on the importance of each criteria, an algorithm was applied to determine the star rating for safety consultants The top-ranking consultants were awarded five-star ratings. Where companies rated highly enough to achieve an 80 per cent or above approval rating, they were awarded a five star rating in the relevant criteria/area.
To determine the ratings, our analysts gave a weighting to each criterion, depending on its relative importance for customers (for example, if customer service was ranked as the most important criteria for customers, then customer service was weighted more heavily than other criteria, (like meeting requirements). Our analysts applied an algorithm to the data to reflect the weighting and importance of each criteria.