Roxanne McKendry is the 2015 Safety Leader of the Year

The employee health and safety manager at Carewest wears many hats

Roxanne McKendry is the 2015 Safety Leader of the Year
It’s a Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Roxanne McKendry is in an executive leadership committee meeting discussing the results of the last Partnerships in Injury Reduction audit and making plans for the organizational priorities for the Health and Safety Action Plan for the coming year. On her way out of the boardroom, she walks by a care unit and sees a front-line employee repositioning a client bending over a wheelchair. She stops and reminds her about the importance of using proper body mechanics in her day-to-day work tasks. Once she is back at the office, McKendry gets a call regarding an employee’s concern about being fit-tested for a respirator with the bitter solution, so she sends the safety data sheet and the sweet solution in the interoffice mail. Next, someone stops by her desk and asks if she can have her influenza shot early because she is going on vacation. McKendry’s off to the clinic room to set up for her co-worker’s immunization. 

As the manager of employee health and safety and infection care and control at Carewest, a continuing care provider in Calgary, McKendry is responsible for the health, safety, disability management and wellness of all employees. She frequently has to change hats throughout the day to meet the demands of the job.

“Not only is she at a very high level overseeing huge corporate programs, she is also at the sites, interacting with people, teaching them one on one,” says Samara Sinclair, manager of communications at Carewest. “We’re a huge organization of 13 locations and yet all 2,700 staff know her name.”

McKendry’s ability to adapt to her environment and audience is her key leadership attribute, says Sinclair, and is one reason why McKendry is the winner of the 2015 Safety Leader of the Year award, presented by Canadian Occupational Safety.


Although she is a member of the management team, she is one of those people who will roll up her sleeves and work right along side the employees — she’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty, says Sinclair.

McKendry feels very strongly about having a hands-on approach to occupational health and safety and ensures herself and her department are on the ground as much as possible.

“Being out at the sites, being visible, is key to having people trust you and trust what you say and do,” she says. “We go to all the sites, we talk to employees, we deliver the programing ourselves… And our belief is we role model, mentor, support our employees and that’s how we foster a culture of safety.”

Senior managers are not exempt from this hands-on approach. McKendry has developed a safety walkabout program where senior managers personally accompany her throughout each of the 13 locations to inspect every nook and cranny, question all processes, engage in face-to-face discussions with staff and compile a list of safety issues that need addressing. This occurs four times per year — twice with the COO and twice with each site’s director.

“Senior management is the cornerstone of how (the health and safety) program has survived and become what it is,” says McKendry. “Health care doesn’t have a lot of money so the psychological support of having senior management behind us is integral to how our health and safety culture is manifested.”

McKendry is an extremely knowledgeable health and safety professional with nearly 25 years of experience. She is the past president of the Canadian Occupational Health Nurses Association and she sits on the executive committee of the Alberta Occupational Health Nurses Association.

Although she has lots of expertise, McKendry is very humble and welcomes new ideas for improving health and safety, says Sinclair.

“She values your input. If you have a suggestion on how to reduce a hazard, you can propose it to Roxanne and she will take your suggestion and run with your ideas. She is very open to working collaboratively with people.”

One idea that was a huge success actually came from McKendry’s husband. McKendry had noticed there was a theme of high blood pressure and hypertension among her workforce and she was discussing this concern one evening over dinner.

“He said, ‘You know what would be a good idea is if you put in some blood pressure monitoring stations.’ I went to my boss and suggested that idea and it was accepted,” says McKendry.

She took the idea one step further and created wellness resource centres that were put in place at 10 Carewest locations last year. Each kiosk has a scale, a blood pressure machine that allows users to track their blood pressure on a computerized card as well as a library of health and wellness pamphlets and resources.

When the centres were launched, all staff members were given a wellness kit with an insulated lunch bag, a journal, a tape measure to record personal body information and a stress ball.

The centres have been very well received by staff and have had a profound impact on some.

“When one staff member sat down to take her blood pressure, the machine read it was high, so she was hypertensive, quite extensively, so she immediately made an appointment with her doctor and it was discovered she needed to take steps to control her blood pressure right away, and so she did,” says Sinclair. “The wellness resource centre had a role in actually saving her life.”

Jody Ireland has been an education associate with Carewest for about six months and part of her job involves orientation for new employees. She spends a lot of time focusing on the wellness centres with the new workers.

“I’m really proud to show new employees the tools in the centre. We talk about being ‘heart smart,’ how to stop snoring — because it affects your overall health and wellness — and the EFAP (employee and family assistance program) brochures and the holistic way they help balance your work and family life,” Ireland says. “Without Roxanne’s background, we wouldn’t have all those tools available to us.”

Another program McKendry is particularly proud of is the BACK program (Butt out, Arms close to the body, Chest up, Knees bent), which describes the safest, strongest postural position for the spine when lifting and moving objects, she says. The program has been running for 13 years and 5,000 workers have been trained since its inception.

Fifty per cent to 75 per cent of Carewest’s injuries are musculoskeletal strains and sprains which makes its BACK program really, really important, says McKendry.

“It’s non-negotiable. We have to be able to train staff to do transferring and repositioning and always thinking about keeping the safest, strongest position for their spine while they’re doing it,” she says. “If we don’t, then the risk of injury is greater.”

Since the BACK program was implemented in 2004, Carewest’s workers’ compensation statistics have continually decreased. In 2004, it was paying $1.53 to $2.61 per $100 of assessable payroll and now it is paying $0.99 to $1.29 per $100.  This is well under the continuing care industry average in Alberta, which is $1.45 per $100.

All new employees receive 2.5 hours of BACK orientation within their first month on the job. Every year, the health and safety department visits every site with a consultant to conduct hour-long BACK review sessions with staff. No more than six employees are in each session to ensure they get the attention they need.

“We follow up with staff on body mechanics, the five basic maneuvers and problem solving for difficult transfers and repositioning for staff,” says McKendry.

The BACK program also has a train-the-trainer component. Participants undergo four hours of training before they can train others.

“The passion that goes into that program to get us educators excited year over year of supporting the program by teaching others is phenomenal,” says Ireland. “It’s stressed that it’s so important, (but it’s also) so fun and so dynamic. We spend a lot of time in real-life scenarios, how are our staff going to apply these body mechanic principles in real life to keep themselves safe.”

Carewest employs all different types of heath-care practitioners, from nurses to physical therapists, as well as clinical educators, social workers and a music therapist. It also employs its own food service workers and facilities staff.

For facilities workers, confined spaces can pose a very high risk of injury or death, so workers undergo a comprehensive training program, which includes participating in drills ever year. A program like this is quite unique in a continuing care environment, says McKendry.

“Every year we make sure the staff review how to use the monitors, they get into the safety harnesses, they doff and don all their PPE and that is the real value of the program. If they haven’t had the chance to do a confined space entry, we give them the practice time, the drill needed to do that safely,” she says.

It took McKendry two years to research the program, buy the equipment, create the forms and implement the training and drills.

John Palisoc is the team leader of physical plant services at one of Carewest’s locations and he says McKendry makes sure the workers understand how to properly work in a confined space.

“Roxanne is pretty passionate about her work and she is always on top of everything,” he says. “She sometimes shows up here and checks our forms or the completed ones if we are doing confined space entry… There are lots of confined spaces in here which is why she reinforces this so well.”

Previously, the occupational health and safety focus at Carewest was on its health-care personnel, so giving some attention to the facilities staff has helped them become more alert to the hazards they face and more vocal about discussing their concerns, says McKendry.

Also of note is Carewest’s influenza campaign — the biggest program McKendry runs. Throughout the month of October, the health and safety department mobilizes to bring vaccinations to all employees, residents, volunteers and contract service providers. Workers can get their flu shot until the end of March. Last year, the team managed a 94 per cent immunization rate in a group of 3,600 people. Flu shot clinics are set up at all the Carewest sites to make it as convenient as possible for employees.

“Being immunized against influenza is the single, most important thing we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our co-workers against becoming ill with the influenza virus,” says McKendry. “We believe in immunization because it is protective for our clients who are an at-risk, vulnerable population.”

The campaign also includes a lot of information on the importance of being vaccinated. Workers are given a brochure that addresses several myths — and lays out the facts — about the flu shot.

According to McKendry, it’s her background as both a Certified Occupational Health Nurse and a Canadian Registered Safety Professional that gives her the knowledge and expertise to look after all aspects of health, safety and wellness at Carewest. But the employees believe it’s McKendry’s incredible passion that make all her initiatives so successful. 

“It’s really motivating and inspiring to hear her talk about safety,” says Sinclair. “If you hear her talking to a staff member on the phone… you can tell she really cares about the people and she will give you advice on how to be safer. If you’re experiencing any issues, she’ll talk you though it — it doesn’t matter how long it takes, she is always there for you if you need her.”

Photo: Neil Speers