In 2007, the OHS program at Calgary-based Unitech Electrical Contracting Inc. was in need of constant management in order to stay current with the fast changing regulations and legal requirements. It needed full time attention. In 2008, just a year later, that same safety program earned a Trailblazer Award from the Alberta Construction Safety Association. How did this remarkable turnaround happen? In large part, it was due to the efforts of Kevin Laventure, the company’s national construction safety officer.
Retired Cop Turns Safety Professional
A former police officer, Kevin joined the workplace safety profession about seven years ago. Keith Brooke, Unitech’s CEO, hired him about three years ago to bring the growing company’s OHS program “into the 21st century,” says Kevin. Brooke had been running the program himself, explains Kevin, but he didn’t have the time and needed someone to focus on safety. Brooke’s mandate to Kevin: “Make the company safety program cutting edge, a leader in the construction industry.”
Kevin’s first task was to evaluate the existing program. He found several issues. For example, the company’s PPE was getting older and some was out of date. Plus, workers weren’t using it. And although the company had a safety manual, no one knew where to look for safety information when they needed it.
Some of the improvements Kevin made:
Better PPE. Kevin persuaded the company to buy new PPE, from fall protection harnesses to eye protection. For example, he’d determined that cut hands was the most common workplace injury in the company. So he bought workers Kevlar gloves. No, they weren’t cheap. But no worker has cut his hand since they started using the new gloves.
Updated safety manual. Workers needed to “take the safety manual off the shelf and use it,” says Kevin. “It’s great to have a well written and current safety manual, but if no one ever looks at it what purpose does it serve?” So he updated the manual and made it required reading for workers.
Engaging toolbox talks. The company conducted toolbox talks before Kevin was hired. But they were delivered by the site foreman and tended to be boring. So he made them more engaging, using PowerPoint presentations and videos. In addition, the company began to quiz workers after the talks to see if they were paying attention. The results go into their personnel files. And workers who do poorly must retake the quiz.
Training certification cards. Kevin tracks the training each worker has taken and who needs a refresher. He then issues workers cards on a ring that indicate the kinds of training they’ve received. Workers carry the rings onsite so that contractors, inspectors, etc. can easily see their training history.
Safety initiatives. Kevin wasn’t satisfied with ensuring that the company’s OHS program met the minimal legal requirements. So he developed safety initiatives that went beyond what the law required. For example, all workers at Unitech now get first aid training—not just those legally required to get such training. In addition, the company brings automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to all of the construction sites at which it works, even though such equipment isn’t required under Alberta’s OHS law.
How did Kevin convince management to not only invest in safety but go beyond the legal requirements—and during a recession no less? Kevin says, “My hat’s off to the CEO [Brooke], who gave me carte blanche.” Management was committed to improving workplace safety and willing to increase its safety spending even while other companies were cutting their safety budgets. When he explained, for instance, the cost of the Kevlar gloves as compared to the cost to the company of hand injuries, management backed the investment. They could see long-term and understood that buying cheap equipment now would cost them more down the road, he says. As for investing in AEDs, Kevin convinced management that implementing an AED program would improve the company’s image and demonstrate its commitment to safety.
The workers’ initial reaction to Kevin’s improvements was mixed and there was some resistance initially. But as he kept workers informed as to why the company was making these changes, more people bought into them. Now, workers appreciate the new OHS program, saying the company should’ve implemented it years ago, says Kevin. The OHS program gives workers a “sense of pride” in the company, he adds. Although we’re generally a subcontractor on the majority of our job sites, our site safety standards go beyond those of some major contractors, explains Kevin. Other workers on the sites take notice of the difference and comment. And our workers are quick to accept the recognition.
The improved OHS program has benefited the company in other ways. Kevin says Unitech is now sought out by contractors specifically because of its strong safety program, making it more competitive. In fact, other companies now come to him for advice on how to improve their own safety programs.
The goal Kevin was given when he started at Unitech was to make the company’s OHS program an example, to set the safety standard for the rest of the industry. And it appears that he has succeeded. “The secret to success is first, you have to have everyone on board from administration on down and then be forward thinking all the time,” says Kevin.
Do You Know Someone Who Deserves Recognition?
Do you know someone who deserves recognition for his or her safety efforts? Examples: A worker who came up with a novel solution to a tricky safety problem, a member of management whose strong backing of safety initiatives has reduced injuries or incidents in your workplace or a safety coordinator who has gone above and beyond when it comes to protecting workers. If so, tell us about that person and maybe the Insider will do a profile on him or her. Send use your nominee’s name, company, position and contact information as well as a brief description of why he or she deserves recognition to Robin L. Barton at email@example.com.