Canada Gets Safety Management Standard

Canada finally has a voluntary standard for safety management: CSA Z1000.  Until now, company safety managers couldn’t be sure that they were doing things right.  Now companies will have a standard guide to follow.  The new standard parallels many of the various standards in use today, so working to the new one should not be difficult.

New standards on tap for worker safety
Voluntary plan unveiled to reduce injuries, fatalities

Canada’s reputation as having one of the worst records for occupational health and safety in the developed world could change now that new safety standards have been unveiled.

Figures show that an average of almost three people a day die in Canada as a result of workplace injuries and disease – 928 workers died from work-related injuries and sickness in 2004, according to data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada.  Further, Canada ranks at or near the bottom of developed countries when it comes to occupational health and safety, the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards says in a review of fatal workplace injuries in OECD countries.

“It’s difficult to believe that more than 900 workers die every year in a nation as advanced as Canada,” says Robert Griffin, president and CEO of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group. “It is an eye-opener. It really shocked me, quite frankly, the number of health and safety occupational illnesses and deaths we have.”

The CSA has just rolled out Canada’s first consensus-based occupational health and safety management system standard, titled CSA Z1000-06, which intends to help business of all sizes reduce or prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace.  Though voluntary, the new standard provides companies with a model for developing and implementing an occupational health management system.  It was designed to be compatible with other management system standards currently in use by organizations across Canada, such as ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 9001 (quality management). The standard is also designed to be complementary to the actions of government in tackling the issue of worker safety.

The 20-page document consists of four primary sections – plan, do, check and act.  The chapters tell readers what needs to be considered for a comprehensive safety system.  Businesses will find out about developing a policy for health and safety, what the legal requirements are and what objectives need to be met.  Preventive and protective measures that could apply to the various industries are covered as well as helping to make sure the correct training is in place for staff, along with information on managing and communicating health and safety changes.

The third chapter details checking mechanisms such as ways to conduct incident investigations, while the last segment encompasses the management-review process, including how to continually improve the occupational health and safety program.  “This new standard we just launched is very different from the others (existing CSA standards), which are all important in their own rights,” says Griffin. “This new one is different because it’s a management-system standard that helps companies with their whole management organization of the occupational health and safety process.” 

Even though Canada’s ranking in workplace safety is far from stellar, this country is not as far behind as it may seem, says Lisa Kozma, chair of the Z1000 voluntary technical committee.  “The equivalent U.S. standard just came into effect a short time ago,” says Kozma, noting that it was only published in 2005.  Health and safety management systems such as the Z1000 are the next step in the evolution of existing safety programs, she adds.

Kozma, who is also legal counsel for Ford Motor Co. of Canada, says the standard is voluntary because it’s just one of a number of tools.  “Larger organizations like Ford may already have a system integrated into their management process,” says Kozma. “Ford’s program is consistent with the key principles of the Z1000 standard, which includes management commitment and worker participation in the safety management system.” 

Griffin says he doesn’t necessarily connect Canada’s bad workplace numbers to a strong economy.  “I’m not sure we can tie it to an economic cycle.  The bigger issue is that we’ve become complacent.  So many things looked after for us, our personal safety outside of work, our healthcare system and the products that we buy are looked after for us,” he says.

“The fact that they (the deaths) take place every day in twos or threes, it doesn’t become big news,” adds Griffin.  ”It’s (become) part of the landscape and we’ve become complacent and that is not acceptable.” 

In Alberta, where the economy is firing on all cylinders, the economic argument does appear to come into play.  An Alberta workforce that had one million people employed in 1991 is now at 1.8 million and growing.

“One thing we have been finding – we know for sure – that new, inexperienced workers are a concern,” says Chris Chodan, public affairs officer for Alberta Human Resources and Employment.  Inexperienced workers, he adds, just don’t have the safety procedures down pat as much as veteran employees.  “The big thing we’re finding is we’ve got to get employers to spend more time with the new hires,” says Chodan, especially in cases with employees moving from other countries or those whose first language is not English.  “But there are lots of programs going on where they’re bringing in translators or teaching English as a second language on the worksite.”  The Green Hands program is one such example, where stickers are put on the hardhats of workers. “It’s a good reminder that a person is still new to this site so don’t just tell them to do something automatically,” says Chodan.  Even with all the added pressures from the economy, Chodan says Alberta believes it ranks second, behind Ontario, when it comes to workplace safety.  “The issue is not how do we compare to other provinces, but how do we improve things?” Chodan says, adding that the new CSA standard should dovetail the work already being done in the province.

The CEO Health & Safety Leadership Charter welcomes the new CSA initiative and believes it will be helpful.  But it says Canadian CEOs must jump on the safety bandwagon for change to be realized in workplaces across the country.   Launched in 2005 with 68 members, the 170-member organization works to improve national health and safety performance through sharing, mentoring and coaching. It intends to grow its membership to at least 250.  “We all recognize the safety culture is heavily influenced by CEOs,” says Duncan Hawthorne, who heads the Ontario-based group.  “The overriding environment is that we in Canada actually have a poor record when compared to other countries. Company leaders should accept some responsibility regarding those statistics. Combined, we can actually achieve more in a shorter period of time.”  The CSA’s Griffin is also hopeful that improvements will come, but says it will likely be a number of years before the changes will result in lower numbers of accidents and deaths in the workplace.

By Laura Severs – Business Edge