Psychological safety, small businesses top priorities
Douglas Jones has two primary work-related passions: safety leadership and performance excellence. When the opportunity came along to marry these two passions — and go back home to the Maritimes — he jumped at the chance. Jones has been the new president and CEO of WorkSafeNB since March 2018.
“WorkSafe was struggling for a few years and I saw it as an opportunity to do my part to make a significant difference in an organization. One, for the organization itself and the employees that are here and second for the workers in the province and doing our best to create safe workplaces and rehabilitate those that might get injured. And also for the employers… There’s an opportunity to lower premiums and, at the same time, you can provide additional benefits to workers in the province,” Jones says.
Many of the health and safety issues New Brunswick is experiencing are similar to those in other jurisdictions across Canada. The first is the legalization of recreational cannabis, which has opened up the conversation about impairment in the workplace.
“Alcohol and testing for that have been in place many, many years. It’s not so easy to prove impairment with certain drugs and we are just seeing more and more of those risks present in workplaces,” says Jones. “We are reinforcing that every organization needs to have an impairment policy.”
He also stresses the importance of spending time training supervisors and managers on how to identify impairment, and if they do suspect it, make sure they know the proper steps to take.
Psychological safety is top of mind for the province. Jones was particularly concerned after WorkSafeNB received a phone call recently from an employee who wanted to lodge an anonymous harassment complaint due to fear of retribution.
“The fact that we have employees out there who are fearful of raising issues in the workplace, that whole psychological safety piece, it becomes even broader then because when you think of potentially unsafe actions or operations that are happening in a workplace, are people willing to say, ‘No, this is dangerous and I feel comfortable raising that with my supervisor or manager’?” Jones asks. “As a regulator, we still have a long way to go to work with employers and workers to help everybody understand why it’s important to have those open conversations.”
WorkSafeNB is in talks with the University of Fredericton about making mental health resources available to employers across the province. The partnership would include access to the university’s online psychological health and safety certificate program at the basic, advanced and manager level.
Jones hopes that one day his OHS officers will look for psychological safety elements, including violence and harassment, during their inspections — not just focus on the physical.
“We are seeing this shift from risk of physical injury to risk of mental injury and it’s a different skillset. In the future you’ve got to in and say, ‘Is there conflict in this workplace?’ It’s not something you’re going to be able to walk in and do a walkaround inspection and just see it,” Jones says. “The whole role of occupational health and safety is going to change a lot in that regard.”
Another focus for the agency is serving its small businesses across the province. Eighty per cent of New Brunswick employers have less than 10 employees and 92 per cent have less than 20. The challenge from a safety perspective is that these employers will only have one lost-time incident every four years, on average, so safety isn’t necessarily top of mind.
“It’s not something that you become, for lack of a better word, an expert at — you don’t want to be an expert at it, but if you’re a large employer, you are dealing with some of that stuff on a more frequent basis,” says Jones. “But the risks are the same. A lost-time incident could be a day or two days off, it could be a year, it could be a fatality.”
Jones says WorkSafeNB needs to find a way to reach these employers and help them develop a culture of safety. Fortunately, new legislation was recently introduced by the provincial government that will give more flexibility to the agency’s prevention team and free up more resources to go out to employers. Jones is happy about the chance to expand upon his staff’s ability to help educate and raise awareness among employers, rather than just completing inspections and issuing orders.
“Those are all good things, you have to do those, but if you do them in the wrong way, you can be perceived more as policemen, as opposed to, ‘How can I help?’” Jones says. “I would like to have an environment here in the province where any employer can call up and say, ‘Can you come in here and take a look at things?’ Almost the same approach where you can call up the fire department and say, ‘Come in here and do a risk inspection for us.’ They’re not going to write an order or fine you, but they are going to walk through the building and give you a good idea of the hazards you need to address.”
While he most recently worked as the deputy city manager for the City of Edmonton, Jones spent more than 20 years in the construction industry, where he developed his passion for safety. Unfortunately, he had employees die on his watch and those experiences deeply affected him.
“I remember this one time there was a widow of a young employee that died and his child that I was talking to and that was the first time it really, really hit me that a workplace injury, fatality, it just impacts so many other people,” he says. “I tell people when I speak to them, ‘It’s a situation I hope you’re never, never in,’ and that’s why we’re here talking about safety because it’s just a horrible place to be.”