In 2011, New Brunswick Power Corporation (NB Power) launched a new safety campaign - "We don't need a better hard hat" - that galvanized workers to achieve new levels of health and safety performance. It also captured the essence of what is now an award-winning health and safety culture.
NB Power is the 2016 recipient of Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award. Created by WSPS and Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine, the award is the top prize in the prestigious Canada's Safest Employers award program.
NB Power introduced its current health and safety system in 1994, and over time achieved remarkable gains - "leaps and bounds away from where we were," says Duff Boyd, NB Power's director of health and safety. But in the mid 2000s two things happened. "First we noticed we weren't getting any better. Then we noticed an occasional spike in incidents that we couldn't explain. When we examined the data, we saw a direct correlation between the spikes and organizational changes."
To better understand the situation, NB Power hired an industrial/organizational psychologist whose collaboration was instrumental in appreciating the impact the organizational environment has on individual employee performance. "Specifically, we learned that our organizational changes were causing huge distractions among the workforce."
During this time, the utility also learned about the 40-10-50 principle: 40% of the time our consciousness focuses on past events, and 50% of the time it moves to the future, leaving only 10% to focus on the present.
"It just slapped us like a wet fish," says Duff.
With this 10% in mind, NB Power created its "We don't need a better hard hat" campaign. The goal was to introduce an "industrialized" version of mindfulness, in which employees are consistently aware of themselves, their activities, and the environment in which these activities are performed.
A simple concept, but not so easy to implement in an industry where historically toughness has been worn as a badge of honour.
How NB Power integrated mindfulness into its operations
The utility implemented a three-level approach. Everyone learned the foundations to the physiology of mindfulness, as well as mindfulness practices.
"One of the tools we've taught our folks is a 60 second breathing exercise," says Duff. "Three breaths, 60 seconds, that's it. Those three deep breaths actually change the way the brain behaves in part by removing cortisol. Additionally, within 60 seconds you're actually able to think smart instead of reactively."
All managers also went through a Psychological Side of Safety and Mindfulness module as part of NB Power's management development program, and have completed a mental fitness program on workplace mental health issues, how to prevent them, and how to help people with symptoms.
The executive team participated in a full-day seminar. "No cell phones, nothing. It was an amazing success," says Duff. In the process, the executive team learned that mindfulness is not just a safety construct. It can improve performance in all aspects of operating a business.
Mindfulness is now a part of everyday operations. "It's become normalized. For example, supervisors routinely ask, 'How is everyone's '10'?'"
Since mindfulness has become part of NB Power's health and safety culture, the organization has experienced the three safest years in its 100-year history. But that's just one benefit workplaces can expect.
"You will also see a whole lot more closeness in your organization," says Duff. "People will be more empathetic and open. When they have questions, they will ask those questions. You will have an engaged workforce."
"This is precisely why WSPS created Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award," says Lynn Brownell, acting president and CEO. "We wanted to harness the transformative power of organizational culture. For organizations with a solid health and safety system in place, fully integrating health and safety into their culture is the next step in becoming one of Canada's safest workplaces. It helps these workplaces move further along the health and safety continuum."
3 ways to improve your own health and safety culture
Learn more about the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network. Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award was developed in part by WSPS through the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network, a distinguished group of leaders committed to building sustainable businesses and communities.
Check out WSPS' online resources.
Attend local WSPS Network and Knowledge Exchange functions. Topics vary from roundtable discussions and updates on legislation and injury trends to sharing best practices.