When small business owners Alisia and Matt Williams acquired Ron H. Williams Drainage Inc. in 2013, health and safety was one of their first priorities. But with little health and safety knowledge or understanding of legal requirements, "we didn't know where to begin," says Alisia.
Fast forward to 2021. The company is a bronze medal winner of Workplace Safety & Insurance Board's (WSIB) Small Business Leadership Award for its COVID-19 management plan. Other small businesses now look to Alisia for health and safety advice. "We appreciate how overwhelming it can be for small businesses because we have been there," she says.
Williams Drainage in North Perth, Ontario provides clients with quality agricultural drainage services, including erosion control and excavating, that improve soil health, reduce compaction and increase crop production. This type of business operation is inherently dangerous and could expose workers to serious hazards.
To jumpstart health and safety back in 2013, Alisia hired a private consultant who drafted policies, templates, and guidelines. She thought this would bring the company into compliance with the Occupational Health & Safety Act and its regulations.
"Boy, did I ever learn," she says. To improve her own understanding, Alisia enrolled in the WSIB's Small Business Health and Safety Program, which has since evolved into the Health and Safety Excellence program. "I didn't even know we needed to report an injury to the WSIB, and realized there was much more to be done."
"The program really changed our vision and direction," she says. "We set goals, created an action plan, and incorporated health and safety into our mission statement, philosophy and core values so it became part of our operations." In the process, Alisia learned about hazard identification, risk assessment and the hierarchy of controls.
Gradually, a comprehensive program took shape. "We just keep adding things in," she notes. When COVID-19 hit, all this good work allowed the company to put an effective, award-winning plan in place.
Williams Drainage Inc. continues to improve its program, recently revamping its first aid policy after a series of major incidents in the industry. Access to immediate first aid, emergency response procedures and transportation to the hospital became the focus. "I realized we needed to make sure employees working in the field can get to the hospital and get the medical care needed."
7 tips for small businesses
Here's what Alisia suggests.
- Find a champion. "For Williams Drainage, I am that champion. For some small businesses, it may be the health and safety representative or the office manager."
- Write out your action plan. What do you want to accomplish? How you are going to do it? Set specific goals and attach a timeline. "Use your pandemic safety plan as a blueprint for addressing other workplace hazards," suggests Alisia.*
- Develop a daily three-item "to do" list which wilthelp you break down larger goals into manageable tasks.
- Reach out to WSPS for free resources, advice, and affordable online training. "We started with the Small Business Centre's Safety Roadmap. Now I'm on this website every day."
- Create ongoing H&S awareness among workers. "We conduct daily tailgate talks, which makes a huge difference in workers' understanding of our expectations and their responsibilities."
- Don't think cost, think investment. "Changing how we viewed health and safety allowed us to appreciate its value and helped us create a more professional image for our employees, clients, and contractors."
- Realize H&S is not a "one and done" thing. "You can't just create a first aid policy and procedure and you’re done. It requires continuous improvement."
How WSPS can help
- Learn more about the WSIB's Health & Safety Excellence program, which helps businesses build their program one element at a time. Successful participants earn rebates.
- Visit WSPS' Small Business Centre, which offers health and safety roadmaps and other resources for companies of any size.
- Explore our COVID-19 Hub for sector-specific safety plans, checklists, guidelines and more.
- Listen to Alisia discuss her company's journey, as part of WSPS' Small Biz Safety Podcast Episode #2: Are You Ready for a COVID-19 Workplace Inspection?
This information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.
* Safety plans are now required for all businesses operating in Ontario.