WSPS Safety Group: one business’s audit experience

Feb 19, 2013

People in a meetingThis is the time of year when Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) releases a list of businesses that will undergo a validation audit of their Safety Group activities. Time to panic? Not necessarily, says John Lourenco at Hanson Brick Ltd. in Burlington, Ontario.

"I was a little nervous when I found out last year we were going to be audited," he admits. “When it's your first time, you don't know what to expect. But we had done all our prep work. Any time you go into an audit, you plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Lourenco is general foreman of Plant #1 on Hanson Brick’s Burlington site. The business has another plant on site, as well as a third in nearby Aldershot. All three plants were selected for an audit. The process is called a “validation” audit because a WSIB consultant validates, or verifies, that the business has accomplished what it says it has in its Safety Group reports.

Hanson Brick has belonged to Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ Safety Group for more than five years. Under the Safety Groups program, businesses join for a calendar year at a time. Each business selects four health and safety topics, known as elements, from a list supplied by the WSIB to work on over the course of the year. All businesses also work on a fifth common element.

Throughout the year, member businesses network in local chapters, attending up to five half-day meetings. WSPS consultants facilitate the meetings, offer input drawn from their professional expertise and experience, and point members towards additional resources. Businesses that successfully complete the year are eligible for WSIB premium rebates of up to 6% of the group’s total premiums.

In each successive year, members select new elements and maintain what they accomplished in previous years. After five years, participants will have implemented 25 elements that collectively form the basis of a robust health and safety program.

“It's a very sound way to build a health and safety program,” says Toni Volpato, a WSPS consultant who last year facilitated the Safety Group chapter that Hanson Brick belongs to. “The building process is structured to help member firms prevent injuries.”

About 1 in 10 Safety Group firms are selected for a validation audit, which serves two purposes. It

  • ensures accountability for the program
  • recognizes members’ success in implementing their Safety Group elements.

The WSIB consultants review the businesses' documentation on completed elements. While on site, the consultants also look for posters, signs, posted standard operating procedures, and other indicators that demonstrate the businesses have implemented their elements.

“When we found out we were going to be audited,” says Lourenco, “Toni was great. She let us know what to expect, what to prepare, and what to have ready for the WSIB consultant. She even conducted a dry run with us. So when the consultant arrived, we were ready. We had assembled all our documentation so that the consultant could see that we had done what we said we had done. Because we were in our fifth year of the Safety Group, there were 20 elements - four years worth - that the auditors could ask to look at. We had three boxes of documentation.

“The WSIB consultant was very fair,” continues Lourenco. “He explained what he was looking for, which was mostly documentation of the previous year’s elements as well as some documentation from earlier years. He also walked through the plant.”

How did the three plants measure up? A perfect score.

“It just goes to show what you can achieve when you're dedicated to safety,” says Lourenco. He's not talking about himself, and he's not just talking about the audit results. Management and employees have all committed to sustaining a safe working environment.

Lourenco views the business's participation in WSPS's Safety Group as a leading indicator of management commitment to health and safety, as well as a major factor in the business's safety success: Plant #1 and the Aldershot plant have had no lost-time injuries in five years. Plant #2 has had no lost-time injuries in seven years. “We've belonged to the Safety Group for five years, and I don’t believe in coincidences.”

Lourenco is careful to note that it wasn't always like this. “If the WSIB consultant had looked at our documentation or walked through the plants 9 or 10 years ago, he would have had a very different impression.”

The change began two years before joining the Safety Group, when Hanson Brick began implementing “Kaizen.” Japanese for improvement or change for the better, Kaizen is a business philosophy that focuses on continual process improvement involving all employees at all levels of the organization. By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen aims to eliminate waste in materials, energy, labour, etc.

“It’s been a tremendous help from many perspectives,” says Lourenco. “The difference from then to now is significant as far as organizing, cleaning, and maintaining our plants. It just helps so much when everything is organized, in its place and running smoothly.”

Introducing Kaizen and then the Safety Group program helped employees see how committed management was to cleaning up the plants, enhancing safety, and making Hanson Brick a more enjoyable place to work.

“Gradually the culture began to change,” says Lourenco. “Now everyone's fully committed. It’s made my job that much easier.”

To put Lourenco's comment into perspective, the first year Hanson Brick joined WSPS’s Safety Group was also the first year Lourenco assumed responsibility for safety.

“It was a bit overwhelming at first, but through the Safety Group I learned what I needed to know so much faster than I would have otherwise. And I’m still learning. But one of the great advantages of the Safety Group is that it helps you stay ahead of the game. When the new violence and harassment provisions took effecti, all the Safety Group members had everything in place.”

Sustaining a safety culture

It starts, says Lourenco, with senior management. “We consistently get direction right from the top that safety is a core value. Now everybody is on board, including our foremen, lead hands and all the workers.”

This organizational commitment shows itself in many ways. For example:

  • senior management participation in safety activities, including attending Safety Group meetings.
  • an open-door policy, which encourages employees to share concerns and ideas with Lourenco and others.
  • daily pre-shift meetings in which safety is always one of the topics discussed.
  • monthly, quarterly and annual recognition of safety achievements.
  • ongoing employee updates on safety activities, including progress with Safety Group elements. “When we were implementing the violence and harassment element, our foremen were instrumental in communicating the safety messages to employees. They could see that their foremen were informed on the issues and knew what they were talking about.”

“We feel it’s important that everyone knows what we’re working on, and how it’s going. We want them to see the time and resources that the company invests in implementing the safety elements - writing and communicating the standards to everyone, training people, evaluating what we’ve done, acknowledging success, and making ongoing improvements. We also want them to be part of it.”

Preparing for your own audit

HSO Network News asked John Lourenco what suggestions he had for other Safety Group members who might be audited. Here's what he said:

  • Do what you said you were going to do. That’s the biggest thing.
  • Follow the guidelines for completing the elements.
  • Don't make your action plans so complicated that you can't accomplish them. Be realistic. Commit yourself to what you know you can achieve in the current year knowing that you can continue working on the elements in future years.
  • Record everything at every step, so that if you're audited you have up-to-date documentation showing that you did what you said you would do.

Learn more about WSPS's Safety Group program.

The photo in this article is not intended to represent anyone from Hanson Brick.

Additional reading

  iAn Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters came into effect June 15, 2010. The amendment requires Ontario workplaces to have policies, programs, measures and procedures in place.