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How Superior Glove’s corporate culture helped it earn a prestigious award

Superior Glove

After Derek Neal attended his first joint health and safety committee meeting at Superior Glove, he knew he was in the right place working with the right people.

Derek was the newly appointed HR, Health and Safety Coordinator at the company’s headquarters in Acton, Ontario. Several aspects of the meeting impressed him: the frequency (monthly), the knowledge and enthusiasm of committee members, and a report by plant manager Kieron Evans (shown in photo) on progress addressing issues raised at the previous meeting. “Kieron always makes a point of getting things done by the next meeting. That’s how I knew it was a great place to work.”

Now we know too. Superior Glove is the recipient of the 2021 Canada’s Safest Manufacturing Employer, Excellence Award. The award recognizes outstanding health and safety achievements, leadership, and innovation, and the application process is rigorous. It concludes with finalists being assessed by an independent panel of health and safety experts.

WSPS recently spoke to Derek about the company, the award, and the health and safety culture that contributed to it. What did winning the award mean to you, we asked.

“This award affirms that we’re on the right path and motivates us to continuously improve our existing health and safety programs. It’s something that every Superior Glove team member has helped the company earn.”

Founded in 1910, the company was purchased by Frank Geng in 1961. It’s now managed by his sons — Tony, company president, and Joe, vice-president.

“Superior Glove provides just about every type of work glove you can think of, including medical gloves,” explained Derek. The company also produces safety sleeves and other personal protective equipment (PPE), such as welder’s spats, fire-resistant balaclavas and watch caps, chemical, detergent and oil resistant aprons, and more.

In addition to the Acton facility, the company has three manufacturing facilities in Newfoundland, and a warehouse and distribution centre in Alberta. Health and safety programming and performance in all of these facilities contributed to earning the title of Canada’s Safest Manufacturing Employer, Excellence award.[1,2]

While a commitment to safety starts at the top — “It’s essentially behind everything Tony and Joe do,” says Derek — this commitment is integrated into all levels of the organization through a comprehensive health and safety program, combined with ongoing training and education. But what makes it all work is a corporate culture of engagement.

“The more we can engage team members in a safety initiative, the more successful it will be because they know that it's a matter of caring for themselves as well as their team members.”

Engagement also means feeling comfortable asking questions and feeling safe reporting incidents and near misses. “It’s like the roots of a tree. The stronger the roots, the stronger the tree.”

This culture of engagement extends into the community. Derek offered a couple of safety examples: “Before the pandemic, team members routinely delivered presentations in local schools and participated in local events, like the Christmas parade. A crew from our warehouse production team here in Acton would have designated days off to build a float, and during the parade, team members would hand out safety gloves.”

Derek acknowledged that sustaining engagement during the pandemic has been a challenge. For example, 80 team members in the Acton facility are working from home. Another 60 still come into work but maintain safety bubbles so that if an outbreak occurs it can be contained. “Under these circumstances, we’re doing everything we can to keep morale high.”

Going forward, one initiative under consideration is providing mental health first aid training to team leaders. This training was conceived by the Mental Health Commission of Canada as a companion to physical injury first aid, providing skills to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves or a colleague.

“Depending on how COVID-19 case counts go, we’re also looking into gradually bringing back on a volunteer basis team members who are currently working from home.” Among the considerations: what should the workplace look like? How it should be laid out? Will there be more hybrid roles, where team members come in one or two days a week and work from home the rest of the time?

“Despite pandemic challenges,” continued Derek, “people believe in what our leadership is doing here. We all appreciate working for a company that produces products for the safety and well-being of the workforce here in Canada and globally.”

How WSPS can help

1 This is just the most recent award earned by Superior Glove Works. The company was named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies (2012); a Gold winner, one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies (2015); and a Platinum winner, Canada Top 100 Employers (2020).

2 Superior Glove Works also has international operations, with warehouses in Buffalo, NY and Shreveport Lousiana, and a plant in Bufalo, Honduras.