Hallmark creates safety advocates from the ground up

Hallmark creates safety advocates from the ground up
Hallmark Tubulars is the gold recipient of Canada's Safest Employers Award 2012 in the Mining and Natural Resources category
When Valentine Yav Ilunga was hired three years ago by Calgary-based Hallmark Tubulars — a provider of tubular goods for the oil and gas industry — he heard a phrase that he very much liked and took to heart: safety culture.
“One thing my director told me (is that) shortcuts are to be avoided. If you want to work safely and you want to do a good job, avoid shortcuts,” says Ilunga, who works as yard swamper at Hallmark Integrated Tubular Solutions (HITS) in Nisku, Alta., a division of Hallmark Tubulars.

One of the strategies that has worked well for Hallmark when pushing health and safety policies and programs to workers is creating safety advocates out of their field workers, explains Gord Kozak, chief operating officer at Hallmark.

Think journalists embedded with the military to get a feel of what it’s like in the field. In a similar way, Hallmark has integrated its safety people into its operations.

“Field level workers feel that safety was something that was being done to them. Over the course of the last four years, we’re really trying to embed our safety personnel within our operations groups,” Kozak explains. “It’s not a guy who comes in and audits you. It’s somebody who’s working with you who has the skills to assist in safety, hazard ID and in different processes.”

Training its field level personnel to become safety guys is also Hallmark’s way of pushing the values of safe work practices to the workers. The company wants its workers to own their safety on the job and gives them the means and the tools to accomplish that.

Hallmark knows this strategy is working when any regular field level personnel can be called upon to respond to a safety-related situation and that person would know exactly what to do — and it’s something that has happened in the past.

“That sort of success you have where you can send anybody out to help do the incident investigation and corrective action and analysis, and it’s done very professionally,” Kozak says.

Field level managers are accountable for the safety performance of their teams. Because management has successfully demonstrated to the workers its focus on health and safety, employees are often more open to discuss issues pertaining to their well-being at work, Kozak says.

If workers go to senior management asking them to invest in a project that will improve safety at their job site, it is usually an easy sell, says Kozak.

“It’s very easy to get that through because the field guys have already acknowledged they want them. It’s not spending the money to try and beat it down. It’s them coming to us with solutions based on what they have at their meetings,” Kozak says.

The fact many from Hallmark’s management team rose through the ranks from the field is an advantage as well. These managers have inside knowledge of what goes on in the field and where the hazards are.

Trevor Cameron, director of operations for Hallmark, is one of those managers. He started out in the industry as a swamper and worked his way up to a management position.

“Hallmark really does support bringing people up through the ranks,” Cameron says. “They believe that is a very effective way of not only getting quality people in the higher parts of their business but it also helps to support safety because the people actually can speak to the job — actually know what really happens (on the job site).”

Having management people who understand what workers go through and face on a daily basis is an advantage when trying to get workers to buy in to Hallmark’s programs. Kozak, who has worked in both oil and gas and construction industries since his teenage years, says this has contributed to the company’s success in creating a safety culture across the organization.

A manager who has been there and done that will more likely achieve a greater degree of respect and support from the workers, he says.

“We know it, we lived it, we understand… People will look at that with a level of authority and experience, and see that guy as a mentor,” says Kozak.

Working in the oil and gas industry has very unique health and safety challenges. Some would say it’s an industry inherently hazardous, and injuries are almost a normal occurrence.

The culture that permeates across the entire Hallmark organization, however, seem to tell a different story. Workers are constantly trained to be aware of the hazards and generally practice only safe work procedures.

Ilunga explains any newly hired worker goes through extensive training courses that include safe working procedures and hazards on the job.

“For (the new hire) to work in the yard he needs somebody experienced... to train the new person, to show him the dangers we go through every day, so the person can… fly on his own in later days,” Ilunga explains.

Hallmark workers are constantly made aware of their surroundings, and are encouraged to perform “safety observations” before starting their shift. This involves the worker looking around where the work is to be carried out that day, to assess the risks and to bring up any safety issues or potential issues to their managers.

No work can commence if there are any unresolved issues that can potentially compromise the safety of the workers, says Kozak. As has been demonstrated in the past, Hallmark management will not hesitate to stop a job when worker safety is on the line — even if it means potentially compromising a client relationship.

Hallmark celebrates “safety days” — the number of days its facilities have gone without a recordable incident. Hallmark’s various facilities have gone years without having a recordable incident — a feat that’s “almost unheard of” in the oil and gas industry, says Cameron.

“We are very proud of that. And it is not a numbers game, you can always have an incident at any given moment, but it’s back to what you are doing from a diligence standpoint. Do your best to manage the risks,” Cameron says.