CEOs talking safety: view your people as an appreciating asset

Sep 05, 2014

CEOs talking safety"In business," says Sunshine Brands president and CEO Peter Van Stralen, "there are two dominant mindsets. One is the boss mentality, where people are seen more as things." The other mindset is where people are seen as assets. "If you care about people and build them up within your organization, they become one of a company's few appreciating assets."

Frank talk from one of three CEOs participating in "View from the Top," an annual must-see session at WSPS' national Partners in Prevention Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, held earlier this year in Mississauga. In a lively two-hour discussion moderated by Gemini award-winning broadcast journalist Wendy Mesley, three CEOs shared opinions, insights and advice as they responded to such questions from delegates as "What approach would you take with a CEO who doesn't 'get it'"?

Sharing the podium with Van Stralen: Harry Oshanski, president and CEO, Casino Rama, and Mike Reinders, president, Maple Reinders Constructors. Highlights appear below.1

What instilled in you the feeling that you had to do more about safety?

Mike Reinders: I know what it's like to be injured at work. When I was 18, I broke my kneecap because someone else was fooling around. I've also seen a man killed on a project, and I don't ever want to be the person who goes to somebody's door and says your spouse or father or son has died.

Harry Oshanski: Very early in my career I had to deal with two serious events at the same time. The hotel I worked for was renovating and an employee fell off a stepladder that was improperly put together. He broke his arm and shoulder. On the same day a guest slipped in the parking lot and broke her pelvis. From that moment on, safety became ingrained in my personal culture, which I took with me everywhere I went.

Peter Van Stralen: When we started expanding from a family-operated landscape management and snow removal business to a franchising operation, we had 18 locations in a short time. It struck me that we were developing 18 cultures, and that was bad. We were losing things we stood for. So that was a big catalyst for change. How do we drive a culture of safety - we call it a culture of care - across our entire network? I began to really study leadership and culture, and it all starts with our team members. How we treat our team members affects how they treat our customers.

What’s your role in health and safety?

Peter Van Stralen: I need to drive that safety culture throughout the organization and let people demonstrate that it's incredibly important.

Mike Reinders: I’m the top safety guy in the company and I have to continually communicate and demonstrate safety.

What approach would you take with a CEO who doesn't "get it"?

Peter Van Stralen: If CEOs aren't paying attention to health and safety, you have to assume that they're looking at everything from a spreadsheet perspective. So, you have to make the financial case and present real scenarios of what it's going to cost if something goes wrong.

Mike Reinders: I would challenge those CEOs about their values. Every organization starts with values. Out of values come vision, strategy and actions.

Harry Oshanski: Take the approach of what is the impact on the organization. Include multiple standpoints, such as employee engagement and customer satisfaction. You need to be relentless because it’s a challenging situation. You have to change the culture.

How do you ensure that a CEO's commitment to health and safety permeates the organization?

Peter Van Stralen: At Sunshine Brands it starts with how we recruit people. Our company is based on eight principles that deal with caring for people, and safety is a big part of it. So we start with recruiting people who are predisposed to this. We want people who come to our team to already get this stuff, so we don't have to spend time and energy trying to convert someone who only cares about the bottom line.

We say that the front line creates the bottom line. We start every single training session, every single conference, with this message. We also lead by example, and inspect what we expect, so that our franchise coaches see what’s actually happening out there.

Mike Reinders: Commitment has to filter down from the top. If it doesn't, safety's not going to happen. If the leader doesn't push certain values, those values will disappear. A lot of companies say safety is a value, but do they really live it?

At every site we have orientation sessions, safety meetings, toolbox safety talks, and a huddle every morning. At every meeting, including board meetings, safety is at the top of every agenda. We have a whole manual of safety topics that people can choose from to talk about just to keep the safety communication going.

Harry Oshanski: Set goals and objectives for all employees. We instituted a Kaizen program of continuous improvement, where the first metric is always health and safety. From that we set tangible goals and objectives in every single department. We post them daily on visual management boards where it's actually up there for all employees to see. Senior leadership reviews those boards on a weekly basis, and the number one topic is safety.

Mike Reinders: There's something called managing by walking about… and seeing whether employees are really doing what they say they're doing. You also need a culture of candour and openness, and to be open to comments and critique from employees. Otherwise, employees will be afraid to speak up.

Harry Oshanski: We do a number of things, from town hall meetings, annual general meetings with employees, newsletters, roundtable meetings, to things like 'Ask the Pres' online, which is anonymous, and 'Here's Harry,' where I sit at different spots on certain days and times, and people can ask me a question about anything they want. I also attend joint health and safety committee meetings. Being in regular and genuine contact with employees is absolutely essential to making sure that they feel your passion about it. CEOs need to feel their passion too. It's a two-way street.

Watch for more coverage of View from the Top in our November issue, where the CEOs answer such questions as

  • How are you able to instill health and safety as a core value at the manager and supervisor level?
  • How do you hold subcontractors accountable to your standards?
  • What practices would you recommend to prevent reprisals?

Also, check out WSPS conferences and trade shows taking place across the province this fall.


1 Speakers' comments have been edited and condensed