International collaboration

Growing up working in the same coal mine as his parents in northern Labrador gave Jim Hopkins an ingrained appreciation for safety. His supervisors — and parents — always stressed its importance, and when Hopkins himself was promoted to supervisor, he wanted his crew to be the safest of the 1,500 men who worked at the mine.

After a deadly incident at the mine where two truck operators died, Hopkins was approached to join the loss prevention team to turn things around.

“One of the two operators had actually (previously) worked for me, and I had disciplined her on a number of occasions for driving at excessive speed, operating too quickly and dangerously. She moved off to work for this other supervisor who wasn’t as rigid,” says Hopkins, who is now the manager of safety, security and environment at the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company (SkyTrain) in Vancouver.

This inclination towards safety that started when Hopkins was just a student is still ingrained in him to this day, making him a natural fit for the president of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), a post he took on in September.

“Even way back when I was a supervisor, I just had this passion to say ‘I want the safest crew,’ and when they put me in charge of safety, my passion was to make it the safest mine… and when I joined SkyTrain, again that passion was ‘I want this to be the safest rapid transit company in the country, if not the planet’ and that extended to CSSE,” he says.

Hopkins first got involved with the association, which represents 5,000 safety professionals across the country, in the late 1980s when he was working in Tumbler Ridge in northern British Columbia. He was looking for professional development opportunities and decided to attend a few meetings as well as the association’s annual conference. A couple of years later, when he moved to Vancouver, he became actively involved in one of the CSSE’s biggest chapters: the Lower Mainland chapter. (CSSE has 36 chapters from coast to coast.) He started off as a director at large, eventually becoming the chapter chair and then regional vice-president for B.C./Yukon on the national board of directors.

In 2012 he was elected the vice-president/treasurer, which meant he would become president in two years. (CSSE members do not vote for the president, rather, they vote for the vice-president/treasurer with the understanding that person will automatically become the president and then past-president.)

Hopkins’ top priority as president is to continue with the CSSE’s newly defined mandate of shaping the safety profession in Canada by working collaboratively with members and partners. It is working to define the competencies required for a safety professional, help members acquire those competencies, point them to the right educational institutions and designations, such as the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP), and spread the word about the importance of competent safety professionals, says Hopkins.

“I know lots of people who were the first-aider or the injured employee, then suddenly they need someone in safety and they pick them, but they are really not a safety professional,” he says. “We want to make employers aware of the fact that you don’t have to take labour off the shop floor and make them the head of the safety team. You would never do that with the CFO — grab the payroll clerk and say ‘I need a CFO, you’re it.’”

Hopkins and the CSSE board of directors are working on further defining the various experience and education levels of a safety professional. Publishing the competencies from a tiered approach, such as junior, mid-level, senior and executive, is the next step.
This document, which is slated to be released early this year, will help employers have a better understanding of what they need to consider when hiring a safety professional. It will help them understand what health and safety skill sets they need for the job and which applicants possess those skills.

“The supervisor/safety co-ordinator for a 150-person mom-and-pop manufacturing plant, I can guarantee that person will not have the same skill set as a person who is the senior vice-president of safety for a multibillion dollar company,” says Hopkins.
The document will also be useful for members as they can look at it and see where they fit in, and also identify areas they are a bit weak or haven’t touched on yet, he says.

“I have this vision of things like a self-assessment tool that would allow me to go into an interactive system, where I can plug in the things I have learned, things I have done, education, all of those things and it would actually then grade me and say I am sort of in that junior, mid-level but if I want to aspire to the next level, here is what you need to work on,” says Hopkins.

Another high priority item for Hopkins is outreach and working with the broader safety audience, such as the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in the United Kingdom and the International Network for Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO).

They are in the preliminary stages of potentially launching a global version of North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week. If this gets the green light, the global health and safety week could launch as early as 2016.

“Is there some synergy, some collective message or strategy and initiatives we can introduce across the planet that maybe would get a bit more mileage?” asks Hopkins.

An initiative like this might help breathe new life into NAOSH Week.

“The struggle with NAOSH Week in North America is those companies and communities that have embraced it, we see fabulous success — the number of events that take place, the heightened awareness in the workplace and community — but it’s not reaching everyone,” says Hopkins. “If we make it bigger, if we make it more global in nature, ‘Well I have to buy in because everybody else is,’ that’s sort of the thought.”

A safety week can also be useful for safety professionals themselves because it acts as a refresher and forces them to re-focus on the basics. And the safety profession is ever evolving, so you never know when you might learn something new, says Hopkins.

“When I joined the safety profession, the Internet, cellphones, things like that didn’t exist and those changes are going to keep happening… We have to stay current, so don’t ever think that while you have a diploma or master’s degree ‘I’m done,’” says Hopkins. “The safety profession is like a lifetime apprenticeship and you get your journeyman certificate a week after you retire.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of COS.