Building safety into your small business: one franchisee's story

Oct 09, 2014

Auto serviceJack Walton, owner of five Midas Auto Service and Tires stores in Markham, Newmarket, Oshawa, Richmond Hill, and Scarborough, is an all-in kind of guy. No half measures here.

Back in 2007, one of his employees sustained a serious back injury while directing a customer's car onto a hoist. Instead of braking, the customer accelerated, striking the employee and forcing him backwards into a pipe bender. His back has never been the same. Neither has Walton.

"I always thought I had a health and safety program, but I realized later there's a lot more to it than a first aid kit and maybe an eye wash station."

The gap became fully apparent when the WSIB sent him documentation in advance of a Workwell audit. "There had to be 600 pages. It scared the hell out of me."

Workwell audits help companies improve their health and safety program. It's a rigorous process, and Walton had no idea where to begin. He brought in an HR colleague, Richard Green, as a consultant, and together they reached out to Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS). "We met with Lori McIlwraith, and that got the ball rolling."

Walton understood early on he had to put a comprehensive framework in place, "not just for the audit, but for everybody in the organization. Your most valuable asset is your people. Why wouldn't you take care of your people the way you take care of your equipment?"

Walton also understood he couldn’t make this happen on his own. "I realized everybody in the organization is responsible for health and safety. The question became how to make health and safety an integral part of our business processes on a daily basis? This is what Lori helped us with."

"I saw very quickly that Jack needed a health and safety manual," says McIlwraith, a WSPS key accounts manager. WSPS manuals help businesses of any size develop, implement and sustain a far-reaching health and safety program.

"As we developed the program, Jack was very open to any recommendation I had. His approach was, 'If that's the right thing to do, we'll do it.' But as a business owner, he also knew the program had to be manageable. How could his staff implement the manual's tools in their day-to-day life without adding more work? I was happy to work with Jack and Richard on this. Health and safety programs are most effective when they're top down, and built into a business's daily performance expectations."

When the manual was ready, the three of them sat down with the store managers. "We said here's what we're going to do, here's what the expectations are, here are some tools, and from this point forward, you're all expected to do it. And they got it," says Lori. "They understood its importance to the business and to the person running the business, and that it was the way of the future."

After the managers, each employee received training. It continues to be an organizational priority. "I just hired a new person," says Walton. "He's been in the trade for 16 years, but on his first day he didn't touch a car. He spent the whole day taking WHMIS training, familiarizing himself with safe operating procedures, everything to do with health and safety."

Today, says McIlwraith, you can see evidence of a health and safety culture all around you. "Even little things, such as how people are storing tools and chemicals, and how clean and tidy they keep the shops. Details like these tell me that all of Walton's people take safety seriously, and that any workplace can improve its health and safety performance by taking manageable steps that alter what they do on a daily basis."

"Customers pick up on this too. They see a clean, well-organized environment in which people are happy to be doing what they're doing. All of this creates value for customers and staff."

The last words go to Jack Walton. "If I hadn't done this, I may not still have this business. It certainly wouldn't be as profitable. But at the end of the day, if you have a successful business, it's not because of you. It's because of your people."

How WSPS can help

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services offers a suite of solutions to help small businesses achieve and maintain the highest standards of safety. Visit the dedicated small business section of our website, or contact WSPS Customer Care, phone: 905-614-1400 or email at: customercare@wsps.ca.