You've got to have heart to be a good safety leader, says award winner

Hydro safety manager explains why he's like a conductor, helping every employee do their part to make safety philosophy more effective

You've got to have heart to be a good safety leader, says award winner

When asked what makes a good safety leader, George Minow doesn’t hesitate. “Heart,” he said. “You have to care. Employees have x-ray vision, if you don’t mean what you say they can see right through you.”

As the recent winner of Safety Leader of the Year at Canada’s Safest Employers Awards, Minow knows a thing or two about effective leadership.

Minow, who is Manager of Health, Safety and Wellness at Kitchener‐Wilmot Hydro, says he often keeps in mind advice given to him by one of his first mentors:

“Don’t forget who you work for […] I’ve always tried to keep that in mind – I work for our staff to help them with their safety.  Then only when there is time, I volunteer and help others with safety education when asked or needed.”

Minow got into health when he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union and was asked to be their safety rep on a joint health and safety committee.

His first experience was challenging, and he started presenting at group safety meetings and looking for safety solutions as a JHSC member.  “There was a commitment to safety, it’s just that there had never been a full coordinated safety program before, just pieces owned by many people.”

After a few years, Minow was asked to take on safety as a career by his President.  His safety philosophy has always been encouragement, and promoting safe behaviours. “I’m not the safety cop, I’m the safety coach – that every professional team needs to do well. I help everybody do their part [but] I’m not going around policing everybody, that’s the supervisor’s role in legislation.” He will ask workers about their jobs and families, thank staff and contractors for doing the right things and exercise his authority if someone is at risk.

He has a practical approach to safety, “one of my philosophies is you have to make safety easy, and then people are more likely to do it.”  This applies to things such as getting protective quipment on request, having great equipment available to do the job and practical training – “and listening to the people doing the job who know it best is key to making things easy.”

Now at Kitchener‐Wilmot Hydro, Minow says that “a big key to our safety culture is getting you in the door and ‘reprogramming’ you as I like to say! We like to change the new staff’s perspective of risk to make people understand that whether you’re an office person or a field person you’re still at risk of being injured. People want to be safe; you just need to help them learn how.”

Minow is also a strong advocate of what he calls “stealing with pride.”  

“I’ve borrowed a lot of material from other companies,” he says – and it goes both ways.  “When it comes to safety, we can all do better by sharing what we do to keep people safe and healthy, including mental health and wellness.”

In the same vein, he says that one of his favourite parts about working in health and safety is seeing somebody “own something I’ve taught them.” It means that it’s not just words, but it has become a reality: “I’m not just talking, people have embraced the ideas and turned them into reality – that’s what really tickles me.” 

Part of this is building a legacy wherein the team will advocate for a strong safety culture even if heleaves or retires. Says Minow: “I love my job – how lucky am I!  I never thought I’d be one of those people who could say that they love their job. But I am, I really love what I do.”