Vancouver Airport Authority: Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture 2015

Employees at Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) take personal ownership of occupational health and safety.

“People have a sense of doing the right thing when it comes to safety,” says Kevin Hong, manager of health and safety at the 440-employee organization that manages the Vancouver International Airport. “There is a really strong culture of intrinsic safety.”

Safety and accountability are two of the four values at the airport authority — the others being teamwork and innovation — and every department sets its own OHS goals annually.  They are responsible for risk assessments, tool box talks and training for which they submit a monthly report.

“The health and safety department is there to help drive that change, but we are not the safety police at this workforce,” says Hong. ”It is completely owned by them.”

An annual awards program — now in its 12th year — highlights the departments with the best health and safety programs and celebrates their accomplishments at a gala event.

Every official meeting at the organization starts with a discussion on safety — including those of the board of directors, says Craig Richmond, president and CEO.

“They want to know has anything come up, what are the trends, what are the statistics, how are we trending compared to what we wanted.”

The board is responsible for providing oversight for the enterprise risk management program, which evaluates any possible risks the airport may face, from the price of aviation fuel to the health and safety of employees.

“The board measures how we are moving from that inherent risk to target risk and if there’s a gap, what are the specific measures we are doing to reduce that?” says Richmond.

About one year ago, VAA changed its remuneration policy to reflect safety targets. Managers are now measured and rewarded based on how well they are able to meet their safety goals.

Many projects take place at the airport (last year it had $280 million in capital projects) and each one has a safety goal. While the ultimate goal is always zero, the airport monitors the contractors to ensure they are not exceeding industry averages.

North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week at VAA starts with a wreath ceremony and guest speakers for the National Day of Mourning, which remembers workers who have died on the job. The ceremony takes place in a public concourse and employees from other companies in the airport, members of the public and contractors all participate, says Richmond.

“It’s very somber, very, very moving and there are hundreds of people from suits to construction workers standing for the day of mourning.”

For people with autism, flying can be a harrowing experience — especially for children. To help combat this, VAA has partnered with the Canucks Autism Network. One evening each year, it closes part of the terminal and walks families through the complete flying experience from check in to the safety demonstration on the airplane.

“People come back to us and say ‘You know I would not have flown without that experience but my son or daughter is now comfortable enough’ and they went to Disneyland,” says Richmond.

Workers at VAA aren’t afraid to speak up if they have a concern. One morning at 3 a.m. when Richmond was working with a crew on the runway replacing inset lights (as part of an exercise where all senior managers worked two night shifts) he asked the group for their thoughts on safety.

“They felt empowered to say ‘Look, I need to stop right now and we need to rethink this’ and there was no question in their mind there would be no pressure to continue until they were happy.”