Christl Aggus of Canadian Society of Safety Engineering discusses COS 5-Star Safety Culture 2023

Christl Aggus of Canadian Society of Safety Engineering discusses COS 5-Star Safety Culture 2023 special report

Workplaces are safer but vigilance is important. The 5-Star Safety Culture report recognises the top performing employers in Canada who are ensuring the well-being of their employees.

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Chris: Welcome to Canadian Occupational Safety TV. My name is Chris Sweeney and I am the managing editor of special reports here at Key Media. And today we're looking at our brand new report, 5 Star Safety Cultures. And I'm joined by a very special guest who's going to discuss the report and give us some commentary around it. And that is Christl Aggus. She is the chairperson and president of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering. Thank you so much for joining me. 

Christl: Christl, it's my pleasure, Chris. 

Chris: Firstly, if we can look at this special report in general, five star safety cultures, what are the major themes affecting and impacting upon the Canadian occupational safety sector right now? 

Christl: Dynamic. Things are changing. I hate to go back to COVID all the time, but it did make things change. So what we're seeing and what we're hearing is, is a move to a more different and a more dynamic type of of of culture within safety workplaces. Um, looking at hybrid, we never thought about this before being able to work from home. Of course it's not going to work in a manufacturing environment. You can't bring your machine home, put it in the garage and and operate it from there. But but certainly some of the more administrative decision making and bookwork can be done at home. So we're starting to see a drive and a demand for work life balance. 

Chris: Are there any particular sectors or types of employers in Canada that are embracing occupational safety more than others? 

Christl: That's a tough question to answer because unless you've got them all at the table talking at the same time, it's very difficult to gauge what type of reaction I am seeing, though, that workers are starting to demand these opportunities they're talking about. I can deliver the same value to an organization. Me speaking as a worker, saying that I can deliver the same value to the organization, but in return, what I'm looking for is a living wage and I'm looking for the ability to have more autonomy with my time, to be able to say that if I want to work from four until five in the morning, I don't need somebody to crack a whip and say, No, we need you there from eight until nine. Certainly it's different If you've got meetings and you've got other people dependent upon you and your and your expertise. But we're seeing that. There's an opportunity for employers to retain their workforce by shifting away from a traditional employment model to incorporate either a hybrid model or a working from home model. A remote work model. So there is a shift of employers and I hesitate to say that any one industry is better than any other industry because I think in Canada as a whole we need to shift. And I think that work workplaces are starting to recognize and employers are starting to recognize If they don't, they're not going to have that crop. They're not going to have the pick of the top talent. 

Chris: Obviously something is really pertinent right now is hybrid working, but what are the occupational safety responsibilities on Canadian employers in relation to people working from home? 

Christl: I don't know about legislation. I think our legislation is going to be slow to respond and because we're going through some other things, this is very difficult because when you take a look at the things that are involved with a remote type of working environment, you are you're shifting the definition of a worksite and now all of a sudden you're incorporating a worksite into people's personal and private lives. And there's always been that clear. The clear division, This is what I do at home. This is what I do at work. And as soon as you marry the two, there's a burden on both sides. From an employer perspective, there's certainly security issues when you're talking about cloud and you're talking about technology and being able to use a laptop at home that connects through company servers and and you're talking about security, there's a privacy element in there. But more importantly, there's that proprietary information when you're talking about quotes and and customer relations. So that's something an organization definitely needs to be aware of there. So security. The other is that whole worksite the legislation in in in Canada is separated into provincial provinces. So we here, I'm in Alberta, we have legislation that says you need to provide a safe. Worksite. Well, how does the employer guarantee that the work site is safe without. Do they come in and do an inspection? Me personally, I'm sorry. I don't want my boss coming through and taking a look because I'm working in the corner of my bedroom or in a closet. I don't want them coming into my house to do that. But the legislation says in order for the employer to be responsible and compliant, that these things have to happen. So employers have to look at different ways of accomplishing the same thing, especially when you're looking at it from a remote lens and being able to give a worker what they're looking for in remote work, but be able to protect them from themselves and B, protect the employer from any, I don't want to use the word negligence, but any oversight that the employee may have, for example, an employee may leave a magazine on a set of stairs as they're going down the stairs, hit the magazine and break their leg. They're at work. They're on a work site. Now what? So it has to, it has to shift. We the employers need to be aware of the security and the safety. And then they have to take a look at the employee themselves. How productive can an employee be? And that's going to depend on the procedures. It's going to depend on the employer's requirements and the employee themselves. So employers need to be aware that a shift isn't just you can't just say, yeah, okay, work at home because there are liabilities and compliance issues that they need to take a look at. 

Chris: And Christl, in your opinion, are employers worried about the impact of home working on occupational safety right now? 

Christl: We're having these discussions with employers that we work with, the clients that I see. We're actually having these we're having these discussions. And I'm assuming. Not a great thing. I'm assuming they're happening everywhere because we we're poised. We're looking for economic reform. We're looking to get back to realizing profits. We're looking at getting back to having revenue. We're looking at getting back to to having a thriving Canadian economy. And you can't do that without having an attracting and retaining top talent. You can't do that without these discussions. So they are happening. They are happening at a high level. They are happening at a low level and they're happening between employers and employees and between employers and associations. So a lot of key people are geared up to have facilitate these discussions. And I think employers are really looking to their legislators and their leaders to say, what do we do next? How do we marry the work life balance. 

Chris: The data generated by our special report showed that approximately 90% of respondents rated their workplace safety culture above average, and they also around about 90% as well, had undergone a safety training session in the past six months. Do those results surprise you, Christl? 

Christl: Surprised? Not at all, because our employees support their employers, period. And so when you're talking about safety education and safety trainings, that's encouraging for me because I do believe that we are reactive. We are proactive and within the safety culture, occupational health and safety culture, including occupational hygiene. We are more in tune with with what we need to do and educating our workers to ensure that they have the tools necessary to be able to perform at the level their employer is expecting. I would like to see that education trickle up into that C-suite so that we're we're the education is not just for the workers, but more so so that we can we can do that collaborative process where where we are working together to bring the employee and the employer closer in the goal. 

Chris: What do you feel are the issues in terms of safety training being absorbed and retained by employees currently? And also, what's your advice to Canadian employers in relation to that? 

Christl: Competency, making sure that you have clear defined competencies. So if you. It's easy to take a forklift driver and say in order to be competent to drive this forklift, you must have operated it. You must have the training, you must have experience, you must be supervised. And then we'll measure your competency working solo, driving that forklift. But what it is that you need to be able to demonstrate as far as skills, knowledge and experience is derived from that competency. Therefore, we're able to look at and say, Yes, you meet that competency, but follow up with that competency. So you give him a year or her a year, you give the operator a year. Then you follow up, you do another competency evaluation so that because things creep in, bad habits creep in time, pressure, all of these things creep in. So competency for me is an absolute key. And those things will change as technology changes. Competencies are going to change. As equipment evolves, competencies are going to change, as software evolves, as artificial intelligence and those types of applications evolve, competencies going to evolve. We've seen a shift in in paperwork. It used to be paperwork. You would sit down and fill out your paperwork. Now it's electronic and cloud based. You can go on to a phone or a tablet and you click in a few places. Have we caught up with those competencies? 

Chris: As workplaces become safer, is there a worry that maybe complacency sets in? People take their eye off the ball. How do employers stay vigilant against and fight this complacency? 

Christl: Complacency has a place in competency. And that's why I say to you, you can't just deem someone competent and then leave it. So there needs to be a revisit for all of those things. And you bring up some some really good points and that is complacency sneaks in when in the absence of injury or property damage, complacency, we have this false sense of security that perhaps maybe we're doing something right if something hasn't happened. And it is a false sense, especially if we're not following procedure or if we've been doing something and we've been allowed to do something in a manner outside of the procedure that hasn't produced any negative results. Complacency is one of those things. So I think it's something that we need to clearly define in our competencies and we need to take a look at complacency. Where can it creep in? What are what are the challenges with it? And take a look at I come back to this SWOT analysis right off the bat. It keeps coming in there because there are opportunities for complacency to sneak in. And if we don't identify where those opportunities occur, it will it will creep in and it will affect us in our our injury rates and our property damage rates. 

Chris: And Christl, another issue I'd like to get your insight into is what's your thoughts on overseeing safety culture when companies acquire others and merge together? 

Christl: Great segue into promoting the health and safety profession Chris thank you. It would be to consult somebody who has that expertise. So getting getting a health and safety practitioner or professional into the C-suite to say, have you looked at this risk and and how do you expect to control this, this, this this side of your business or have you experienced a merge like this before? So you need to look at a number of different factors and that is risk tolerance and compliance. So as an organization merges, they're probably looking at compliance. I don't know that they're looking at safety culture so much as they're looking at the compliance side of things, and a health and safety professional would be able to say to you, you have risk, you have residual risk. When you do this. One system might be in Canada. We've got a number of different organizations. We have a certificate of recognition in in some of the western provinces. And we're starting to see this in Ontario, where membership organizations are able to say with a safety program that meets a certain standard, we will offer you a certificate of recognition to say that you meet this standard and health and safety professional would be able to take a look at this merger and the acquisition and say you're out of compliance in a number of different areas when you bring these two together. And this would be our recommendations to move forward. Health and safety professional would also be able to take a look at this and say your health and safety culture may suffer some damage or may suffer some hiccups. So we may want to look at psychological health and safety. We may want to look at how do we bring these two groups of workers together and get them working in a new fashion. It's one of the things that we do. 

Chris: As Canada is such a massive country and landmass, how do Canadian employers ensure they're able to instill a uniform safety policy across all their operations nationally? 

Christl: I think there's always going to be a challenge, but we don't know any different. We've always been this way, so we kind of have two different styles of legislation. We have an overarching federal legislation that that looks at our federally regulated employers, the government, airlines, trucking companies that go from province to province. But for the most part, occupational health and safety is governed provincially. And there are differences. I hesitate to say subtle, because I know that there will be people who challenge me, but there are differences. Is it difficult to manage? It can be. But for the most part, no, because your regulations are clear. We do have clear regulation. We do have clear legislation. And I'm grateful for it because it makes the standard very easy. It can be difficult when you have multiple employers on multiple sites or moving through multiple areas on large projects only because when you have too many cooks, you don't have enough room for all the spoons in the pot. And so that might be where I would suggest the difficulty comes from, not necessarily from the legislation and the regulation itself. 

Chris: Thank you so much, Christl Aggus, President and chairperson of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering. Your insights have been really valuable and very interesting. Thanks again for joining me. 

Christl: The pleasure was all mine, Chris. Thank you. 

Chris: I hope you've enjoyed this video interview on Canadian Occupational Safety TV. The 5-Star Safety Culture special report is now live. You can go read it online and we'll see you next time.