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How Woollatt Building Supply Turned An Incident Into An Opportunity


"We're operating in a highly competitive market that's changing all the time," says Kelly Swain. "We run a very tight crew and our customers expect quick, accurate service, so there's no room for mistakes."

Kelly is administrative sales assistant for Woollatt Building Supply in London, a small business that supplies builders and contractors throughout southern Ontario. The 1.5-acre facility houses a retail outlet, a saw shed, and a full inventory of building materials. The company also delivers materials to customers with a radio-dispatched fleet of flatbed, boom and pick-up trucks.

Like most small business employees, Kelly wears many hats. One is safety. She's the health and safety rep and a first aid responder. "From a business perspective alone, we need our staff to stay safe. If one of them is down, then a truck may be down, meaning we can't deliver product in a timely manner. This affects our competitiveness. But having an employee down also affects us personally. We all know each other, some of us for years."

An incident last winter brought this home: an employee was knocked unconscious after falling off a flatbed truck. "It was a scary moment for everyone," says Kelly. It also made the company aware that the workplace may pose more hazards than anyone realized. In the aftermath, Kelly called WSPS.

Stepping stones toward prevention

"Kelly wanted to know what they could do to prevent this from happening again," explains Paul Mansfield, a WSPS account manager based in London who is now Kelly's go-to person at WSPS. "We suggested starting with an on-site visit."

Kelly gave Paul and WSPS consultant Gord Leffley a tour of the site and walked them through the incident. "Our goal was to help the company identify an on-site engineering control that would eliminate the risk of falling from the flatbeds," says Paul. "Gord's recommendation was a rolling ladder, which enables workers to ascend and descend safely and quickly. It was simple and cost-effective. We also encouraged Kelly to write a procedure for loading trucks safely. Having procedures in place establishes performance expectations that help promote a safety culture."

Given the range of activities at the facility, Paul also connected Kelly with two other WSPS experts: a racking specialist and an ergonomist. Informal consultations like these are available at no cost to WSPS member firms. "Having an expert observe how things are done can often generate easy-to-implement solutions that a business may not have thought of," says Paul. "Sometimes it's just a matter of doing things differently."

Kelly acted on many of the suggestions, including making ergonomic adjustments to her own workstation. "I can speak firsthand to this," says Kelly. "I'm definitely feeling more comfortable, which helps me be more productive."

Other steps include arranging for a supervisor to take WSPS' course on inspecting and maintaining steel storage racks, and joining a WSPS Knowledge and Network Exchange (NKE) chapter.

"The NKE is a natural fit for Kelly," says Paul. "The meetings bring together people with health and safety responsibilities so that they can network, help each other out with health and safety issues, learn about new requirements, and tap into WSPS resources. Members also develop a richer understanding of how health and safety contributes to organizational performance - an essential step in establishing and sustaining a safety culture."

Kelly's long-term goal is to make her co-workers' jobs as safe and productive possible. "It's a solid business strategy," says Paul. "Serious injuries and property loss can have a devastating effect on a small business. And as Kelly's account manager, I can help her address the company's immediate needs, but also introduce her to the full range of solutions we offer - hazard assessments, program development, courses, free downloads, networking… we're a conduit for ongoing information and communication, and solutions."

For Kelly it started with just one phone call.