Borger workers proud of safety culture

Construction company wins Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture award

Borger workers proud of safety culture

When Borger Group of Companies won the contract to complete the underground infrastructure of Rogers Place in Edmonton — the new home of the Edmonton Oilers — the Calgary-based company was faced with the challenge of maintaining its award-winning safety culture in a new market with new sub-trades and new workers.

“Our safety culture is different than a lot of companies,” says Bill Borger, president and CEO of the construction company. “It’s not seen as an obligation or nuisance factor; it’s a source of pride.”

The 18-month project, which began in 2015, required an extremely quick expansion into Edmonton from zero workers to 40 in just 30 days. All new workers received extensive orientation and were brought to Calgary to shadow a local crew for up to one week. Each Edmonton worker was paired with a Calgary worker with a similar role. This involved performing their duties with the Calgary team, working with the lead hand for safety and quality assurance and attending safety clinics and tool box meetings.


Recognizing the challenge of instilling the Borger Group culture, the company relocated a key manager and five long-term workers from Calgary to Edmonton. They became safety champions and helped pass along the safety culture. 

Borger made his expectations clear right off the bat by mandating a safety stand down upon the first minor incident at the project. He also visited the project every week.

Borger Group completed the $20-million arena project with no loss-time incidents.

Rewards and recognition are very important at Borger Group. The multi-faceted approach recognizes individuals, crews, divisions and the entire company daily, weekly and annually. Daily, supervisors recognize individual safety excellence by awarding Borger Bucks, an internal currency that can be redeemed for a wide variety of prizes.

Weekly, a new safety champion is crowned and crews are recognized for site excellence with the Golden Hard Hat award. The Golden Hard Hat is displayed in the work site trailer and all team members receive decals for their own hart hats.

Annually, cash prizes are awarded to the safest individuals.

“It keeps safety relevant,” says Borger. “It makes sure that it keeps safety top of mind and also makes safety fun.”

Award winners are mentioned on the weekly Borger Broadcast, where Borger and the senior leadership team promote safety messages and give company updates.

All 386 Borger Group employees also receive prizes, such as Borger Bucks or parties, when the entire company hits safety milestones.

“These kinds of things absolutely build morale in and around the company and that is extremely important for a healthy culture,” says Hassan Hussein, safety manager, who reports directly to Borger.

When it comes to annual performance bonuses for field workers, safety is the top consideration.

“There are nine factors and safety is worth double than any other single factor,” says Borger. “It creates the culture right there.”

The point system for safety is well defined and communicated. It’s tracked by the safety team through ticketing (safety non-compliance) or points rewards (safety compliance). Non-compliance tickets are compiled for assessment to identify trends and areas of opportunity.

Borger Group’s corporate social responsibility platform focuses on social, environmental and economic factors. Some initiatives include charitable fundraisers, such as a barbecue for Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfire victims; the Save a Tree program that re-plants trees lost due to construction activities; and a sustainability committee that identifies new environmental opportunities.

In 2016, the Borger Unity Crew was formed whereby employees on underutilized sites work on community-related initiatives. Workers’ valuable skills and knowledge are dedicated to various causes as opportunities arise.

The company works closely with the Heavy Equipment Operator program at Olds College in Alberta. Borger Group donates equipment, attends curriculum meetings and is available as an industry liaison to support program development.

Workers at Borger Group are held accountable for health and safety through an “interconnected spider web of things,” says Borger, citing checklists, emergency response plans and job-specific roles and responsibilities as examples.

Perhaps the most pertinent example is the S.O.S. card that every worker has in his pocket. If a worker has any concerns around incident potential, she can hand the card to any leader and the site will be shut down immediately. The site will not restart production until approved by two safety officers and a senior management team member, and a safety stand down has occurred.

“We do understand that it’s not always fun and games, and as much as we obviously don’t like this, we understand the negative reinforcement and that it’s extremely important to keep your culture and safety best practices in check,” says Hussein. “So we do have these systems in place when our checks and balances are not being followed.”

Project managers, superintendents and managers at Borger Group are required to complete a minimum of one weekly safety site inspection and hazard assessment for every site they are involved in.

Borger’s management team also contributes to the curriculum design and program creation for Borger University — an in-class and online education and training program. The leadership team facilitates in-class sessions and lunch and learns.

Prior to a subcontractor commencing work on a Borger Group site, a member of the leadership team and a safety officer complete a thorough orientation outlining Borger’s safety program, site expectations and requirements, operational policies, environmental responsibilities and cultural accountabilities.

Leaders also have an open door policy — and workers are not afraid to use it.

“We have this open dialogue with our team members where they are 100 per cent feeling free to interact with us and they discuss whatever concerns or whatever they perhaps foresee as being a potential problem,” says Hussein. “If every single individual is willing to come up to the owner or come up to me and express their concerns, then that’s something you can’t measure. That’s what makes our culture so healthy.”

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of COS.