When Sharon Cole joined TFP Stairs and Railings, she left the ordered environment of a large financial institution for the less structured and more hands-on environment of a small family-run business. The change was exciting and challenging. "In my previous position, if I needed direction I knew where to go. At TFP, I had to figure it out for myself."
The Kingston-based business combines skilled craftsmanship with high technology to design and manufacture stairs and railings. Founded in 1987 by Wayne and Lola Cole, the growing business is now managed by their sons David and Chris.
Although Sharon was brought in to implement a financial system, she soon took on responsibility for health and safety.
"The family believed they were already operating safely, and no one had ever told them any differently. But having come from a workplace with a well-established health and safety program, I felt we could do more. Exactly what, I wasn't sure of."
Sharon's concerns sprang from two sources. "We have a great bunch of people. They're just like family, and nobody wants to see a family member get hurt. But getting involved in health and safety also opened my eyes to the liability side. If you don't have a safe workplace, your business is at risk."
Like most small businesses, TFP runs lean. "We need everyone to be on the job. If we had an injury, it would affect the whole team."
Just as Sharon started looking in earnest for ways to improve health and safety, WSPS consultant Brenda Vrooman stopped by. "She's been a godsend," says Sharon. "She's very easy to talk to, she's direct, she motivates you, and she's always there if I have a question."
Brenda encouraged Sharon to join WSPS's Safety Group, in which businesses work independently and together to implement core elements of a health and safety program. WSPS consultants like Brenda facilitate regular meetings, and also work one-on-one with members and help them tap into WSPS resources. Members are guaranteed a rebate on their workers compensation premiums if they collectively improve their health and safety performance.
"The Safety Group was a natural fit," says Brenda, "because Sharon wanted to build a health and safety program methodically and economically. She's now been a member for four years, and by the end of this year will have put 20 elements of a comprehensive health and safety program into place."
More recently, TFP asked Brenda to conduct a workplace hazard assessment and develop a health and safety manual and employee handbook. "I just didn't have the time to do this myself," says Sharon. "We're growing so fast and there's just too much to do. I was telling Brenda this, and she said, 'Well, we can do this for you.'"
Building a bigger, better business
In 2013, TFP moved to a new purpose-built facility that doubled the footprint of the manufacturing shop, enabling the company to hire more people. Sharon attributes part of the business's growth to its investment in health and safety.
"It's improved our productivity and helped with employee retention. People feel more valued."
And if TFP hadn't invested in health and safety? "If I were to guess, something nasty might have happened. A serious injury could have reduced our output, increased turnover, led to a fine, and maybe even compromised our ability to expand."
But this hasn't been the case. "TFP cares about safety and about their employees," says Brenda. "Seeing owners and senior managers demonstrate a personal commitment to the well-being of their employees is what builds a health and safety culture."