How “fun” earned Borger Group Canada’s top H&S award

Nov 19, 2018

How 'fun' earned Borger Group Canada's top H&S awardAt a gala event on October 18, Bill Borger, President and CEO of the Borger Group of Companies, stood at a podium to accept - for the second year in a row - a Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award.

Canada's Best Health + Safety Culture Award, co-developed and sponsored by WSPS, was inspired by the CEO H+S Leadership Network, a group of forward thinking leaders who embrace their role as champions in the growth of sustainable businesses and communities. The award is the highest honour in Canadian Occupational Safety magazine's Canada's Safest Employers Awards program.

WSPS eNews spoke earlier this month with Bill Borger about why a health and safety culture is important to the Borger Group, and how the company sustains it.

"Every employer needs to have the best policies and procedures in place to protect our team and our businesses, but that's a starting point, not an end point," says Bill. "You also have to rely on your team to look out for each other, so that they understand their own level of accountability for each other's safety and their own safety.

"To do that, you need to engage them, but you can't just tell people to be engaged. You need to motivate them so that safe behaviour ends up being fun."

A fourth-generation family business with just under 500 team members, Borger Group specializes in heavy civil construction: large projects such as residential subdivisions and infrastructure upgrades. A companion transport division specializes in heavy hauls.

Many projects mean many worksites, so team members must work independently and as team members, protecting themselves and each other in the presence of heavy equipment.

It's not a setting in which "fun" comes to mind, but Borger Group has found how to use fun to keep team members safe. And it's working. Borger Group has not had a fatal incident in over five years - a prerequisite for a Canada's Safest Employer award. In fact, Borger Group has not even had a single lost-time injury in over a year.

How Borger Group equates fun with safety

It's not so much what the company does, but how. Here are four safety initiatives common to most companies:

  • promoting education and innovation
  • communicating directly with team members
  • recognizing and rewarding safe performance
  • reinforcing team member accountability

Borger's approach? Consider the following examples.

Promoting education and innovation

"We try to 'game-ify' things as much as we can," says Bill. "If you take courses through Borger U, you earn credits that build towards a 'Bachelor of Construction,' 'Master of Construction,' even a 'Doctor of Construction.' The second you've successfully completed a course, a certificate pops up in your personal team portal. This improves your prospects. We also take these courses into account when considering people for promotion."

"On the innovation side, we invite individuals and crews to submit ideas to our annual innovation fair. Any given year, we drive about 50 innovations forward into best practices. If your idea is accepted and becomes a best practice, you receive a handwritten letter from me and a minted innovation coin. Now you're part of an innovation coin game, where participants can earn awards, participate in draws, receive discounts, and more. It all helps us move forward."

Communicating directly with team members

Every Saturday Bill visits as many worksites as he can. "This is something our family has done for 100 years. You say thank you to the site foreman, you walk around looking at safety and other priorities, and you talk to people. It's important to me that people know they're working for a company that appreciates them."

Once a week Bill also speaks to all team members via the Borger Broadcast, a voice message from the CEO. Among the topics: safety messages and emerging safety issues. The content may be serious, but Bill describes the presentation as "completely goofy. I'm on there with one of the superintendents and we act silly; it's all part of making it fun."

Team members listen to the broadcast via an app on their smartphones. That's just one function of the app. It's also an essential resource tool that provides each team member with instant access to wikiBorger, a searchable database containing safe work policies, procedures, best practices, hazard assessment forms, checklists, emergency response plans, templates, and more.

Recognizing and rewarding safe performance

Under the company's annual performance-based bonus program, safety is one of nine performance factors but worth double any other factor, including production.

Safety is also rewarded as opportunities arise, such as performance achievements. "As soon as we won the 2018 Canada's Safest Employer Awards, I announced it to the team, and everyone got 100 Borger Bucks," says Bill.

Borger Bucks are a currency team members can spend in the Borger store on anything from gift cards to Flames tickets to iPads.

Reinforcing employee accountability

Team members are held accountable for health and safety through an "interconnected spider web of things," says Borger, citing checklists, emergency response plans and job-specific roles and responsibilities as examples.

Perhaps the most unique example is an S.O.S. (Speak Out for Safety) card that every team member carries in their pocket. Team members who feel anyone is in imminent danger can hand the card to a leader who will shut the site down immediately. Production does not restart until approved by two safety officers and a senior management team member - the CEO if he's in town. Again, there are no negative consequences for taking action.

These are just a few samples of a comprehensive effort by Borger Group to engage the team in sustaining a safe and healthy workplace. "Any workplace is just one mistake plus one broken policy away from a potential fatality," says Bill. "We need everyone to be engaged in safety. Even something as simple as wearing safety glasses or a hard hat can keep us alive.

"At Borger Group we drive engagement by making it fun and meaningful. It's a chicken and egg thing: if you invest in your team, they'll invest back in your company."

Photo credit: Tim Fraser Photography