Trend Watch: Sobering Information

September 1, 2017

Internal Responsibility System (IRS) is the employee-employer partnership in ensuring a safe workplace.  It has as its foundation that everyone in the workplace, both employees and workers, are responsible for their own safety and that of their fellow workers. It is the underlying principle in all provincial occupational health and safety legislation in Canada that all individuals assume certain responsibilities for the protection of every employee's health and safety. As an employer you are responsible not only for working in compliance with acts and regulations but also for determining the steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of all workers.

In my years involved in plant management engaged in implementing IRS I struggled around the right sequence of the these three words in prioritizing work tasks: production, quality, and safety.. A safety consultant I worked with at the time ingrained a management practice that proved invaluable: to be aware of the consequences of not having a well-functioning IRS and a poor safety culture by reviewing records of convictions for violations under local workplace safety legislation. The safety consultant took me through the websites that list the recent incidents and convictions in various provinces, which served as a sobering reminder of what can happen when the IRS isn’t working properly.

As you scroll through the various provincial websites you begin to see familiar names of companies, the type of injuries that are occurring, and the penalties assigned for those accidents. There are a number of secondary wood processors cited in these websites, including a recent fatality that occurred at a pallet manufacturer in Quebec.

Some of the websites include:

In reviewing the record of convictions you obtain a good appreciation of the costs, both personal and financial, to injured workers as well as employers. The real costs of workplace injuries are of course severe: the pain and suffering afforded to the injured worker and their family, the interruption to plant operations, and the time and money spent on legal representation. If think you have a hard time recruiting workers, try doing it with a poor safety record.

The real benefit I found was that it made us ask the tough questions in our daily plant operations:

  • Did all of our workers get the proper training for the job they have been assigned?
  • Has the training been given by a competent person and is the training properly documented?
  • Are our safe work procedures properly described? Are our workers following them? How do we verify that the safe work practices are being followed?       
  • Is our equipment safe to work on and can we demonstrate that the equipment is both in proper working order and has all of the proper safeguards in place to ensure that it will not injure our workers?
  • Are we operating in compliance with the workplace health and safety regulations? How do we know?

As senior management we had the greatest responsibility to ensure that the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) we had established was being actively promoted and was functioning successfully. It was difficult to get plant management supervisors out from under the paperwork and the computer but I made a point of making sure that that they were on the floor working with members of the Joint Health and Safety Committee to make sure our safety management program is working properly.

We found the exercise of being familiar with the costs of accidents in the workplace to be a huge incentive in helping us prioritize the way we did things inside the plant; make sure the work is done Safely first, then make sure we have the Quality right, and finally work on getting the Production where it should be. In my experience, the plants with the best safety record were always the ones with the best quality and least cost to operate.

When you look through these records of convictions it reminds you that management’s responsibility is to take every reasonable precaution for the protection of the work. A strong health and safety culture shows respect for the people in the workplace and leads to a more productive work environment.

11-1884 Merivale Road, Ottawa, ON, K2G 1E6
T. 613.521.6468 or 1.877.224.3555 F. 613.521.1835 or 866.375.1835
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