Safety through tragedy

Up Close: Jackie Norman, president and CEO, Safety Services Nova Scotia

On May 9, 1992, Nova Scotia experienced a devastating mining disaster. Early in the morning, methane gas escaped from the coal seam and erupted into flames, killing 26 workers at the Westray coal mine near Plymouth, N.S.

This event was the catalyst for pushing Safety Services Nova Scotia — a provincial non-profit safety council — to launch a workplace health and
safety division. 

“That event was really instrumental in the province in looking at how health and safety was handled within organizations — and we were an obvious fit because we were already delivering WHMIS courses so we expanded from there,” says Jackie Norman, president and CEO of the Dartmouth, N.S.-based organization.  

Safety Services added an occupational health and safety (OHS) branch to its existing road safety and community safety divisions. The association was the first in Nova Scotia to tackle OHS, says Norman. 

When Norman first started working at Safety Services as an administrative assistant in the early 1980s, it was a registered charity with a small staff of three that was focused on promoting safety in schools, handing out information to the public and fundraising.

Now, the organization has 12 full-time staff members and 100 instructors across the province. 

Safety Services’ OHS branch offers auditing, consulting and training services. 

There are a wide range of online and in-class courses available, including managing workplace violence, safety for the supervisor, forklift awareness and confined space entry. Safety Services also conducts group classes for individual employers so the courses can be customized to fit their needs, says Norman. 

One area that is gaining a lot of traction is safe driving. In April 2013, Safety Services launched a training program specifically designed for workplaces around safe driving. 

“It’s really coming to the forefront in workplace safety because so many people are driving for work and it doesn’t have to be a company vehicle, but they are driving on behalf of work so there is a requirement for the workplace to provide training,” says Norman. “And of course motor vehicle collisions can cost organizations a lot of money.”

The course does not only include rules of the road and crash avoidance, but also covers attitudes and driver behaviour. 

“A big component of safety training is to get buy-in from students but also if somebody has to go back to the workplace and get buy-in from employees then that whole attitudes, beliefs and so on have to be touched on and the whole culture piece in the workplace,” says Norman. 

Professional development is another focus of the organization. Safety Services has its own designation — the Health and Safety Professional (HSP). This program consists of 11 compulsory modules and three additional electives for a total of 30 credits. 

“We find a lot of people are taking it on the road to writing their CRSP (Canadian Registered Safety Professional) because it is more practical in nature,” says Norman. “Because we require a test at the end and a practical exercise, a lot of people are working on it while they’re working and just brushing up their skills.”

Safety Services offers the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH)’s International General Certificate. The certificate from the U.K.-based organization prepares health and safety professionals for work internationally. 

Safety Services offers certification programs for supervisor safety and joint health and safety committee members. It also offers university credit courses in occupational safety through a partnership with Ryerson University in Toronto.

Norman is very passionate about the organization’s annual health and safety conference. 

Now in its 32nd year, the conference started as a road safety show and slowly included OHS elements along the way. But the OHS piece got so huge that it “took on a life of its own” and became its own conference in 1997, says Norman.

The conference sees about 500 delegates, 50 speakers and 60 trade show booths. 

Over the past few years, Norman made it a priority to ensure the conference reached out to younger professionals. For the first time last year, some sessions were offered as webinars.

“We’ve noticed new and younger supervisors coming to our conference so of course we need to look at different ways of learning, not only because they are maybe new to the profession and in a younger demographic but because of the technology that is available,” says Norman. “We need to reach them in ways they want to learn.”

Norman is a board member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) — a professional membership organization that promotes and supports excellence in not-for-profit leadership. This has provided a great networking opportunity for Norman since many other health, wellness and safety-related organizations across Canada are non-profit as well, she says.

Through the CSAE, she has connected with a variety of non-profits — such as the Red Cross and Feed Nova Scotia — to help them develop and improve their health and safety programs.  

“We provide free advice, answers to their questions and come out and meet with their safety committee, for example,” says Norman. “When you look at other organizations providing training that might be in the private sector, they charge for everything versus with us, we would reach out and assist — particularly if they are an association or non-profit.”

All of the provincial safety councils across the country belong to Safety Services Canada, of which Norman sits as past president. Through this association, the different councils come together to provide national, consistent training, says Norman.

“If we look at fall protection, for example, there may be different legislation across the provinces but there are key components and best practices that can be shared in a one-day class and then we all import our provincial legislation,” she says. 

A growing trend in workplace health and safety across Nova Scotia is mental health, says Norman. To promote respectful workplaces and combat workplace bullying, Norman and her team partnered with Pink Day, an anti-bullying initiative that started in schools across the province. 

Although Pink Day is Sept. 12 — when people wear pink T-shirts in support of the cause — Norman and her staff wore pink every Friday throughout the summer as a reminder.

“We’re really encouraging workplaces to stand up with others and really support this,” says Norman. “Bullying doesn’t end in the classroom — it transfers to the workplace.”