NOW HERE’S A SAFETY STORY
Parker Johnston has quite a safety story. Injuries, as a whole, have dropped a whopping 35% since 2006. That’s an enviable safety record that any roofing company would want to call their own. The first thing you notice when talking to Jay Beddows, Parker Johnston Industries Safety Practitioner and chief safety resource, is how quick he is to give credit to all levels of the organization for their success. He credits Rod Parker’s management style, the divisional superintendents for stepping up to the plate and most especially, the workers for embracing the safety program.
It wasn’t always so. Jay assumed this position in 2006 after working for Parker Johnston since 1992, first as a journeyman roofer and subsequently as a foreman. His operational experience, he learned, could be both an asset and a liability. The rudimentary elements of a safety program were in place back in 2006. In hindsight Jay realizes that implementing new programs is much easier than fine tuning existing programs. It’s difficult to change the direction and culture of such a large organization.
Resistance to change was the first issue Jay had to grapple with. He frankly admits he’s tried a variety of approaches. He’s learned that what works best is education, consultation, and involving all levels of the organization in developing, setting and achieving safety goals and objectives. He works hard not to have his department viewed as a punisher or a disciplinarian. He does not like being called a safety ‘officer’ because people assume his job is to penalize rather than educate.
Significant changes have been made to all facets of the company’s safety program. Back in 1993 when Jay started out as a roofer, orientation was your basic ‘go to the job site and work’. Today workers receive both visual and hands-on training before being sent out on a job. This training covers every element of working safely – from rights and responsibilities and refusing unsafe work, to reporting unsafe practices and conditions with respect to fall protection protocols. For workers involved in erecting and dismantling scaffolding, a three day course has been initiated which covers all elements of erection, inspection and dismantling. Additionally, a one day awareness course has been introduced for workers not directly involved in these tasks. If one of our staff is working on or around scaffolding we want to ensure they have the knowledge, skills and ability to be able to recognize potential deficiencies and unsafe conditions while conducting work on or around a variety of scaffold situations.
One of the biggest hurdles Jay was faced with initially was getting workers and superintendents to report “near misses”. Jay found he was learning about these incidents third hand. The perception across the organization was that reporting a near miss would lead to punishment and/or fines. The message was reformulated. It became ‘we need to know what went wrong so that we can fix it’. Consequently, near miss reports have risen from 3 to 12 on average per month. These near misses range from seemingly minor issues like dropping an extension cord from a Man-lift, to incidents with the potential to cause serious harm. The increased reporting in this area is one of the main reasons our injury incidents have been so significantly reduced. Jay is rightfully proud that staff and superintendents now feel safe to report these incidents. “Improving a program is all about communications” says Beddows.
Time off work related to injury has dropped as significantly as injury rates. The highest risk area across the industry and with Parker Johnston, not surprisingly, is steep slope roofing and scaffold work. Parker Johnston successfully introduced an early return-to-work program that reduced time off due to workplace injuries in half. Initially this program was met with resistance by workers as they viewed this initiative as an earned right that was being infringed upon. Over time this perception shifted as a result of work modifications to accommodate individual worker needs. The tasks were physically lighter but meaningful both to the worker and the company. Workers began to enjoy their participation and contribution. Attitudes changed.
“Buy in” is a phrase that liberally peppers conversation with Jay. Whether it’s dealing with resistance, lowering injury rates, working with management or introducing new policies or programs, successful implementation is much more than words on paper. It has to live across all facets of the Parker Johnston organization. At a corporate governance level Parker Johnston’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) has become an effective tool for change and it keeps on getting better. The JOHSC is co-chaired by management and workers. All divisions of the company are represented on the committee. Initially the committee was put together to satisfy legislative requirements. Today the committee is an effective tool to communicate issues to management often leading to significant change.
The committee meets monthly, minutes are posted and feedback is requested and encouraged. In June, 2014 Parker Johnston is taking the structure of this important vehicle a step further and it’s a significant step. The workers will elect their representatives instead of having them appointed. This will eliminate any real or perceived conflict of interest. The committee has evolved from a ‘puppet’ structure to a valuable resource and advisory committee that wields significant influence across the organization.
When asked to describe a typical work day Jay chuckles and says “Typical ends with my alarm clock and a cup of coffee”. Past that point almost anything can happen. Not surprisingly Jay has become adept at juggling competing demands. He appreciates that he is afforded the leeway to act without micromanagement. Most of all Jay enjoys the opportunity to be a leader and a force for positive change within a proactive company. He is quick to point out that patience is required to do his job. Change most often comes, not as an avalanche, but in snowflake layers.
Parker Johnston’s safety story is one that the entire organization can be rightfully proud of. The next blog post will look further into the role of the safety professional, implementing change and strategies for keeping up the momentum.
Well done, Jay.