Off to a flying start at Vancouver Airport Authority

Vancouver Airport Authority is the gold winner in the transportation category for the 2013 Canada's Safest Employers Awards.

This past year, a new employee safety orientation was launched at the Vancouver Airport Authority. The system is a highly interactive computer-based training module. It includes two electronic guides — one for employees and one for managers — to help guide a new hire’s first few days and weeks at the company.

“The focus is really trying to educate people and raise the bar on hazard recognition and how to report safety issues and really trying to build that culture,” says Dan Strand, manager of health and safety.

The instructor-led portion of the orientation also got a facelift to make it more interactive and risk assessment-based with team and individual exercises and mock scenarios.

“There’s the theory of sitting at a computer but it has to be followed up; it has to be felt by the employee that this really is part of the DNA of the team — this isn’t theory, it’s actual,” says Craig Richmond, president and CEO.

The airport authority recently rolled out a new safety and incident management system. It allows for one common platform for reporting incidents, accidents and hazards, developing action plans and tracking resolutions, says Strand.

The 400-employee organization was in need of a system like this due to its sheer size and the wide range of potential hazards.

“When you tie it all together, you need something to track it — to track all the things that come up logically through to the decision-makers and people deciding what the next workflow is,” says Richmond. “And if you identify hazards, you don’t want to have it get lost in the vast amount of paperwork.”

Every year, employees participate in a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) walk. The most recent walk saw 200 volunteers from the airport and community gathering at 4:30 a.m. to crawl the airfield and aircraft movement areas for garbage and loose debris.

When the walk first started about 20 years ago, they would collect truckloads of trash, but there is progressively less every year, says Richmond.

“A little bolt, a plastic bag or a piece of plastic out on the operating surface of the airport or even in the grass that could be blown onto the concrete, that’s very dangerous for aircraft engines and it could cause real damage,” he says.

The airport authority has a wellness program that has been in place for 15 years and has evolved with employee input. The program rewards and incentivizes behaviours by giving employees “wellness points” for a variety of different activities that they can cash in for up to $210 in gift cards.

They can get points for activities such as yoga, boot camp, tai chi or bicycling to work.

Last year, nearly every employee signed up for the program and more than one-half received the maximum number of wellness points.