Adapting to change at Scotiabank Convention Centre

Scotiabank Convention Centre is the gold winner in the hospitality category for the 2013 Canada's Safest Employers Awards.

When the new Scotiabank Convention Centre opened in Niagara Falls, Ont., two years ago, it was a great opportunity to revisit occupational health and safety, says Tammy Sweeney, director of human resources.

“We’ve been looking at everything with fresh eyes from the day that we opened — really identifying what our contractors need to do, what our partners need to do and what our employees need to do,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges with a convention centre is that safety elements change with every event.

“It could be a construction zone for one event as we’re setting up staging and rigging, that sort of thing, and for the next event we could have 200 local people bringing in boxes out of their trunk for a show in the exhibition hall,” says Sweeney.

Every couple of months, managers conduct safety talks with their workers on a hot topic in health and safety. Topics have included young workers, lifting safely, loading doc safety and finding lost children. Each safety talk has to be signed off by all 208 employees.

“Just before the summer months, we will do ‘How take care of yourself in heat.’ If you are out in the parking lot for an eight-hour shift, what are the things you need to do to prevent heat stroke?” says Sweeney. “Around Christmas time we will do a safety talk on stress and dealing with family stress and money issues.”

Employees participate in a variety of monthly drills, including fire safety, bomb threats and lost children.

“Although very little does go wrong on a regular basis, because we’re such a public building, the potential for anything to go wrong is out there and our staff have to be ready for it,” says Kerry Painter, president and general manager.

When it comes to emergency preparedness, all employees have small cards hanging from their ID tags that outline what they need to do in different emergency situations. For example, there is one card for “code red” which indicates a fire and another one for “code black” which signals a bomb threat.

“You may have practiced but if something really happened and you kind of panic, you’re wearing it around your neck so you can see ‘I go here, this is what I do,’” says Painter.

Scotiabank Convention Centre has a lofty goal of having a smoke-free workplace, says Sweeney.

“We’re looking at moving the smoking area so it’s less convenient to smoke at work and not as appealing — that’s a simple, logical fix,” she says.

The convention centre offers a smoking cessation program to help employees quit and is looking into offering incentives to quit smoking or for those who do not smoke.

In December 2012, the centre opened a fitness room that includes several pieces of cardio equipment, weights, medicine balls and a heavy bag. Employees use it before work, during their lunch breaks and after their shifts.

“We wanted something that would be available to all of our employees so the fact that it’s inclusive is fantastic,” says Sweeney. “It’s wellness, it’s social, it’s team-building, it’s fitness — and it’s driven a lot by the employees.”