Securing a business advantage: two firms' Safety Group experience

Sep 19, 2013

Safety Group logoLowe-Martin Group and Alpine Ski Club — two businesses different in almost every possible way — had functioning health and safety programs that put them comfortably in the middle of the pack. But that wasn’t enough. Both wanted an edge. Something that would take their programs to a higher level of performance.

Eight years ago, Lowe-Martin Group joined the Ottawa chapter of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS)’s Safety Group program. Three years ago, Alpine Ski Club joined the Barrie chapter. Both businesses have since become keen advocates, and will continue in 2014.

WSPS Network Magazine spoke with Tony Perrino at Lowe-Martin Group (LMG) and Brenda Hindle at Alpine Ski Club (ASC) about how the Safety Group program is helping them boost health, safety and organizational performance. Perrino is LMG’s director of facilities and mechanical services1. Hindle is ASC’s office administrator and health and safety coordinator.

WSPS Network Magazine also spoke with Chrystal Brown and Kirsi Henry, the Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) consultants leading the chapters each firm belongs to. For their comments, see the related article, “What Lowe-Martin Group and Alpine Ski Club are doing right.”

Safety Groups is a performance-based incentive program developed by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Each participating business selects four key elements of a safety program to work on over the course of a calendar year, for up to five years2. All members also work on one common element. Safety Group sponsors such as WSPS hold five meetings during the year, during which members discuss challenges they’re facing, share resources, and listen to expert speakers. Successful performance of a Safety Group, as determined by a WSIB audit, will result in a potential 6% maximum rebate of group premiums based on achievement and performance.

About the businesses

In LMG’s words, the business is Eastern Canada’s premier carbon neutral, sustainable, eco-friendly commercial sheetfed and web offset printing company. About 550 full-time employees in four locations provide a range of services, including commercial and digital print, direct mail, warehousing and logistics, and e-business solutions.

ASC is a private ski club with 120 acres of skiable terrain, a lodge, and lifts catering to downhill skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers. About 300 mostly seasonal staff operate and maintain lifts, groom the ski runs, and conduct teaching and competitive ski and snowboard programs. About 13 full-time staff make sure everything runs smoothly. “On a good Saturday,” says Brenda Hindle, “we may have upwards of 2,000 people come in. From Wednesdays to Fridays, it’s mostly corporate groups, anywhere from 200-700 people coming up for a ski day.”

For more on these businesses, see “About Lowe-Martin Group” and “About Alpine Ski Club.”

The presenting challenge

“Prior to joining WSPS’s Safety Group,” say Perrino, “our health and safety program was built more as a collection of individual control programs than as a holistic management program. We already had a lot of elements in place that the Safety Group program helps members with — lockout/tagout, personal protective equipment, forklift policies — but there was no management system to tie them together.”

ASC was facing a similar challenge, although Hindle expresses it a little differently. “We felt that our safety performance was acceptable, and that we had a pretty good health and safety program in place. But I felt that we weren’t actually practicing it. There are so many different components of health and safety. It can be hard to stay on top of it all. I thought there may be more we could do.

Why WSPS's Safety Group was appealing

Being part of a Safety Group means that members can draw on the expertise and experience of WSPS and their peers. “Putting a plan in place to deal with violence and harassment is pretty much the same for everyone,” says Hindle, “regardless of the type of business. Even for elements like emergency preparedness, which can be pretty specific to the type of operation, WSPS provided lots of useful resource material, and there were three of us in the ski industry who could share notes. It’s nice to know that I have people I can call.”

But the Safety Group also offered ASC a greater opportunity. “It gave us a way to stand back, review our heath and safety program, figure out what we needed to do to keep it current, and create an environment where, going forward, we’re doing everything we need to do as far as getting people home safe.” In other words, creating a strong and vibrant health and safety culture.

For LMG’s Tony Perrino, it was also about building a culture. “The Safety Group first helped us understand the legal landscape and our compliance requirements. But creating a safe and healthy workplace is about more than the law. There's no law that says I have to be polite to people. But our society will be better if I’m nice and helpful to people. It’s the same thing for businesses. So the Safety Group was also a guiding voice in helping us design our culture. It provided us with a path we could follow in our own way. Implementing Safety Group elements gave us a schedule to follow, but we chose which elements to work on.”

When Perrino joined LMG, the business already belonged to the Safety Group and had begun integrating health and safety into its operational business plan. “We had a safety value that stated, ‘We strive to maintain a workplace with zero accidents and make sure our staff know how to protect themselves and others.’

To achieve this, the company had set objectives that were being managed by one of the executive team members. “That's what was happening at the top level,” says Perrino. “At the ground level, people had the perception that health and safety was the health and safety manager’s job. Whenever there were questions, it was, ‘Call the manager. That’s his job.’ What I endeavoured to do was engage the workers, the supervisors and senior management, to make that link between people. I wanted people to start talking to one another about health and safety.”

To start the process, Perrino put all supervisors and managers, including the executive team, through WSPS’s certification training. The intent: to enshrine the concept of responsibilities and duties that are spelled out in the Internal Responsibility System.

It wasn’t a hard sell, says Perrino. “These are intelligent people. As they got a better appreciation of what their responsibilities are, they bought in. Understanding how the system is supposed to work, and why, helped everyone understand and act on their responsibilities.”

Perrino also worked with the joint health and safety committee to strengthen and invigorate it. “The JHSC is a great forum for sharing information and connecting people. We had front-line workers and middle management discussing health and safety, and I would take the results of the discussions to the executive level.”

Over time his presentations to the executive team evolved from reporting sessions to active discussions. “After the certification training, the executive team became much more engaged, recognizing that health and safety was less about tactics and more about being a part of our corporate strategy.”


1 This is a new position for Tony Perrino. Robert Ormerod is now health and safety manager for Lowe-Martin Group, but WSPS Network Magazine spoke with Tony because of his history with WSPS’s Safety Group.

2 Many businesses like LMG that have completed their five years in the Safety Group program continue in the companion Safety Group Advantage Program (SGAP)

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