The world according to Target

Apr 18, 2013

Target logoNobody does things quite like Target, the upscale discount retailer. Since the 1962 opening of its first outlet, in Roseville, Minnesota, Target has evolved into a retail powerhouse with almost 1800 U.S. locations.

Everybody recognizes the iconic logo. Even people who have never stepped inside a Target store know the retailer's stand-alone reputation for combining fashion, quality and service with discount prices.

Now Target's arrived in Canada, opening 124 stores in 2013 alone.

Consider the logistics involved in refurbishing and stocking all 124 stores, inducting 27,000 team members, and establishing an organizational culture and logistical infrastructure that make it all work.

And then there’s keeping all these new team members safe. Who would want that job?

John Cunningham, is who. He's Target Canada's senior safety compliance business partner. He would also be the first person to point out that he's not the only one responsible for health and safety. Everyone is, as part of a corporate culture that places a premium on collaboration and innovation. Cunningham describes this culture as positive and proactive. And safety’s right in there. “It’s very well integrated into our business processes,” he says.

“Since I joined Target in early 2012, I've collaborated with at least 300 people internally. I'm like an internal consultant. The support. And in every collaboration, the approach has always been, ‘What’s the right thing to do,' and 'Let's do it.'”

As part of a corporate culture that places a premium on collaboration and innovation, everyone is responsible for health and safety.

John Cunningham, Senior Safety Compliance Business Partner, Target Canada

A health and safety chronology

Target Canada’s first health and safety challenge was overseeing the renovation of its new Canadian sites, all former Zellers stores. “The general contractors owned safety at the site,” says Cunningham, “but we had an on-site representative to make sure they were on task, including meeting our safety expectations.”

Cunningham describes the renovations as a major overhaul. “We spent $10-$11 million to renovate the stores because the Target brand is very important. We want Canadian guests who are already familiar with Target to have the same experience they’ve had going into any of our stores. Lighting, flooring, displays… they’ll all be very recognizable to guests who already know Target.”

Starting fresh also allowed Target to eliminate any existing hazards, such as asbestos in insulation and other materials. Interior finishes, racking, lighting, compactors, balers… everything is brand new and up to standard.

Before the stores underwent renovation, Target Canada began building its health and safety program, using Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS)’s health and safety system manual service as its foundation. “We want to meet best practices and expectations in each jurisdiction across Canada,” says Cunningham.

Target Canada also partnered with WSPS to conduct a hazard assessment of its headquarters in Mississauga and a typical U.S. store since the Canadian stores were being renovated. The results will be used as a benchmark for its Canadian office and stores. As these locations open, they will each conduct their own assessment to validate the hazard controls Target Canada has already put in place.

Among the hazards identified were musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and Target Canada has taken a number of steps to minimize the risk to workers. “For instance,” says Cunningham, “we have a large team that offloads our trailers, and a flow team that puts the products on the floor and stocks the shelves. We provide these team members with material handling equipment and training on safe lifting techniques.” Retail store checkouts are another potential MSD hazard. Target drew from recommendations published in the HSO Reusable Bag Guidelines while designing its Canadian store checkouts.

Other teams receive their own hazard-specific training. For example, each Canadian Target store has a Starbucks outlet staffed by Starbucks-trained Target team members. They receive training on safe food and beverage handling and preparation.

In addition, team members are trained on such universal requirements as WHMIS, and roles and responsibilities under their respective occupational health and safety act. At the same time, management staff, known as leaders, are trained on supervisory responsibilities. “For anyone who has a direct report, we adapted training from the U.S. on recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviours and added the Canadian health and safety component. Now it covers creating a positive and safe working environment.”

All stores will also have joint health and safety committees. Each committee will be set up, and selected members will receive certification training, before official store openings. The training is being tailored to Target’s needs and delivered by WSPS consultants and trainers located across Ontario. “By the end of 2013 we'll have certified about 200 people,” says Cunningham.

From development to execution…

As Target Canada starts opening its stores, its health and safety focus has been shifting from development to execution. So too has John Cunningham’s.

“Right now I'm spending a lot of hands-on time with our first cycle of 24 stores in Ontario and collaborating with various business partners so that we can fine-tune safety programs and training and make sure we've got it right for the following cycles. This has included me working as a team member in a store for two weeks so that I could personally experience how our programs are being rolled out, and figure out how we can adjust them to make them more efficient.” Among Cunningham’s in-store duties: setting up shelves, price labelling, and training and operating powered equipment.

“It was a very good experience that resulted in us identifying a number of opportunities. In collaboration with various business partners, we've refined several processes, including the powered equipment training to make it more specific to our environment and sustainable at the store level.”

… and back to culture

Stepping away for a moment from the rush of activity, Cunningham draws the conversation full circle, using training as an example. “Target could have just implemented its existing U.S. training programs here, but chose not to. While Target is drawing on what it knows works well in the U.S., the aim is not to replicate its U.S. success, but to create a Canadian success. And in the spirit of collaboration and innovation, some of the learnings here in Canada will make their way back to the U.S.

“But what really stands out for me is how Target involved safety in its planning and implementation from the beginning. It's not an afterthought. It goes to show how proactive Target is in getting it as right as we can from the start.”

For more on Target Canada's approach to health and safety, see What Target did right.

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