Parkland County faces beavers, cougars and bears, oh my!

Parkland County is the gold winner in the public sector/non-profit category for the 2013 Canada's Safest Employers Awards.

When your employees do everything from trapping beavers to using explosives, safety has to be an integral part of each employee’s workday.

In the large, mainly rural municipality of Parkland County, in central Alberta, safety managers promote an active internal responsibility system.

“The commitment of management to our safety program is crucial. But the success for us is that our employees have taken ownership of it,” says Jewel Day-Hampton, safety co-ordinator. “They are all looking out for one another.”

One of the key aspects of Parkland’s safety system is an inspection program that requires managers to conduct one to three workplace inspections annually, chief administrative officer Pat Vincent says. Another important element is the joint health and safety committee, he adds. It is composed of employees from all levels of the organization, and membership is on a rotational basis.

“So every employee has many opportunities to be directly involved in safety during their career,” he says.

Vincent says managers encourage all 210 employees to review and assess safety programs and policies.

“Every year, each person reviews what they do and what the risk assessments are, and they update them
as necessary.”

Workers participate in emergency drills, from fire evacuations to tornadoes. They can also go out and see how other employees do their jobs — whether road surfacing or even blowing up a beaver dam or two, Day-Hampton says.

“So they understand and appreciate the safety mechanisms involved in others’ work. And it helps develop that internal responsibility system.”

Because employees perform a wide variety of jobs, they face a huge number of occupational hazards. Once risks are identified, the safety team must provide many different, and often unusual, training sessions.

“We are so diverse, and we often have to anticipate hazards. Some of our training is bear and cougar training. And we had to bring in the RCMP; we teach our guys about marijuana and crystal meth because they’re going out to houses that could have it,” she says.

Three safety awards recognize workers’ knowledge and contributions to safety. In June, operations close down entirely for several hours, and workers head off to the annual health and safety barbecue. Employees stay informed on safety issues through intranet, monthly newsletter, bulletins, social media and a poster program. And during an annual, day-long workshop that is held in a movie theatre, everyone stops and watches a safety video together.

In an external safety audit done last year, Parkland County achieved a rating of 98 per cent. Their municipal council immediately announced they expected better next time.

“Improving on that will be a challenge,” Vincent says. “But we hope to do that.”