Safety and the C-Suite

There have been thousands of articles and extensive amounts of research on how to get Human Resources a seat at the corporate table, a.k.a. the C-suite. The change from transnational HR to strategic HR has helped many organizations understand the value of having HR personnel in executive positions.

There is a new trend and progressive organizations are now seeing the value of having safety professionals at the C-suite, not just HR professionals. The problem is, we are not sure the safety professionals are ready to take on that type of role.

Regina McMichael stated in a Canadian Occupational Health and Safety magazine (COS) article: “Safety professionals also don’t act like leaders. Part of the reason for this is because no one has taught them how.”

She is right, the current emphasis for most safety professionals is on compliance. They are the watch dogs of the safety system. When the watch dogs are not present the safety compliance does not happen and the safety program falters.

Many years ago, I created the Safety Accountability System (SAS) and the safety scorecard. This challenged the traditional theory of safety, which was if you comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act laws you have better success at prevention. The whole philosophy behind the SAS is compliance is an outcome, not an objective. This is a subtle difference, but it is so important, and it must be repeated: compliance is an outcome, not an objective of the safety program.

Compliance rarely motives individuals or organizations for long. The theory is, only concrete activities that are measured breed health and safety accountability and sustainability. It is this measurement of safety activities that tie into the organization’s business strategy that makes the health and safety professional a greater asset to the executive role.

If safety professionals want to start being accepted at the executive table, they have to start thinking and acting like an executive leader, not a compliance-based safety officer.

The best way to do that is to implement a sustainable and measurable safety system that frees the safety professional from being the compliance watch dog to becoming a safety leader at the executive table.

Discussion questions:

Research some of the safety companies in Canada. Identify what has made them the safety companies in Canada?

Why is it becoming more important for businesses to have a safety professional at the executive table? Here is a link to get your research started.

To Test or Not to Test?

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With the upcoming legalization of marijuana in Canada, the increasing use of opioids, and the pervasive use of alcohol in our society, Canadian employers are intent on doing their due diligence to ensure workers are not impaired at work.

HR practitioners must keep abreast of changes happening in the Canadian employment-law arena. This is easier said than done—nothing is more confusing, or changing more rapidly, than rulings around the employer’s right to test employees for drugs and alcohol. Drug testing, workplace safety, and employee rights have been in at the centre of a number of legal battles for many years.

There are two competing principles in play in an ongoing legal battle between Suncor Energy and Unifor, the union that represents many of Suncor’s employees. Suncor believes it has a legal safety obligation to test employees for drugs and alcohol, saying that they have had 2200 safety incidents involving drugs and alcohol.

Suncor certainly does have a legal and moral duty to ensure the workplace is safe and free of hazards, including impaired employees. However, the union’s position, which is also valid, is that employees have the right to privacy, and that random drug testing violates that right.

Suncor won a September 2017 ruling that allows them to test employees for drugs and alcohol randomly.

Click here to learn more about the Suncor case.

However, in December 2017, just over two months after the ruling in Suncor’s favour, an Alberta Judge placed a temporary injunction preventing Suncor from carrying out random drug testingz

So, where do we stand on random drug testing in Canada now? It is very unclear. Currently, in Alberta, employers don’t seem to have the right to use random drug testing, even for safety-sensitive jobs. The story is different in Ontario, however, with the Ontario Superior Court ruling that random drug testing is legal.

Ontario Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco declared, in his decision concerning the Toronto Transit Commission, that, “public safety outweighs privacy concerns.”

Click here to read more about Chief Justice Marrocco’s decision.

So, there you have it, HR Professionals — there is no clear answer to the question concerning the conflict between rights of the employer   against the rights of the employee. What is the HR Professional to do, you ask? Stay aware, stay concerned, and keep up to date on employment court rulings.  These ruling can change rapidly.


Discussion Question:

Research policies in Canadian workplace and analyze them with respect to drug and alcohol testing. Is it a workplace requirement? When can the employer ask for drug/alcohol testing? Do any policies have a requirement for random drug and alcohol testing?

Safety Costs

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There are three key principles in the management of Human Resources. These are, in no particular order, the management of risk, the management of costs and the management of investments. When we apply these three principles to the management of people they help guide our Human Resources practices in a language that non-Human-Resources business leaders can understand.

These same principles apply to the management of Occupational Health and Safety. Risks, costs, and investments are concepts that make sense to business leaders whose main concern is the bottom line. It is our job as Human Resources practitioners to make the connection for business leaders between the bottom line and safe workplace practices. We are responsible for the people who are the resources impacting the fiscal health of every organization.

Nowhere is the need for the diligent Human Resources management of risks, costs, and investments clearer than in the emerging precedent-setting cases linked to workplace harassment. The financial penalties imposed on the employer for failing to providing a safe workplace are significant.

Click here to read about a recent case where an employer was ordered to pay damages as a result of workplace harassment.

If business leaders to do not understand the language used by Human Resources practitioners when we speak to the social need for safe workplaces, free from harassment of any kind, then we need to re-shape the language to get our points across. We need to use the language that makes sense and has an impact on business leaders in order for them to implement what is required by law.

Workplace harassment in Ontario falls under the scope of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in two distinct pieces of legislation. Bill 168 and Bill 132 both impose the legislative requirements for employers to ensure that workplaces are free from harassment of any kind. When the employer fails in these responsibilities, it is a failure of risk and investment management, resulting in significant costs.

Money talks. It is the job of Human Resources to make sure that people are listening.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does risk management, cost management, and investment management apply to people management?
  2. How could you use these three principles to convince the leader of an organization to implement a harassment free workplace?
  3. What are ‘Wallace damages’? Why would these be a consideration when dealing with the employer’s responsibilities in an allegation of workplace harassment?

HR’s Role in Natural Disasters

fire grass spring

Is HR’s disaster planning a disaster?

Whenever we see a natural disaster in the news, such as ice storms on the east coast of Canada, the forest fires of Fort McMurry or the earthquakes in Italy, we immediately think of the disaster victims. This is a natural human response. Then we think about the rescue workers; but we never think about an HR department.

HR has to turn its head around and start to think proactively about disaster planning and crisis management. There is always a potential natural disaster that may affect your company or your employees. How would your HR department respond? What do you have in place to address a natural disaster in your workplace?

Most companies have emergency plans for fire and evacuation, but not about how to run a business during a natural disaster. A disaster plan answers questions like the following

  • What are your expectations of your employees?
  • What resources do you have in place to support your organization to continue to operate?

All organizations should have a complete risk assessment to identify which are the potential natural disaster which may occur in their geographical area, but what is also needed is a business impact analysis.

Click here to read more on what it means to do a business impact analysis.

A business impact analysis helps the organization plan to manage business interruptions due to a natural disaster. HR departments have to:

  • Ensure staff are accounted for
  • Ensure available staff are deployed where necessary
  • Updating employees on emergency status
  • Handling disruptions in employee wages
  • Creating and sending communication to existing employees
  • Documentation of wages of non-routine work
  • Assisting in developing temporary locations of the workplace
  • Temporary or new schedules

Obliviously, the above is nowhere near a complete or exhaustive list but it does the job to get you to think about the complexities of a natural disaster on HR operations. Maybe it is time for HR departments to take Gary Anderson’s words to heart and realize, “HR is critical to an effective emergency response plan.”

HR departments must ensure they take a proactive leadership role in disaster planning and risk mitigation.

Discussion Question

  1. Pick a recent natural disaster. Imagine that your organization is a business in that geographical area. Develop a business impact analysis for your HR department that you would be presenting to your VP of HR as part of the emergency management plan debrief.

The Costly Cost of Non-Compliance

Due Diligence written on a folder tab

Ensuring the health and safety of workers in any organization is not just a moral or ethical responsibility for the employer. It is a legal responsibility that comes with prescribed obligations and mandatory requirements. All of these legislative requirements have been put into place to ensure that when we leave our homes to go to work every day, we are able to return to our homes, alive and in one piece.

When we look at the legislative obligations that are required of the employer there are two fundamental concepts that drive the employer’s duties and responsibilities. The first is due diligence. The second is the higher duty of responsibility an employer must provide in the protection of all workers.

These requirements, and the serious consequences of non-compliance, are explored in a recent article.

Click here to read the article.

As noted in the article, the employer must ask itself “Have we done enough?” and “Have we gone beyond the minimum requirements?” The employer must prove that they have responded pro-actively and positively in answer to these questions.

Reading from the safety manual is not enough to ensure that an employee understands and is able to protect themselves in the workplace. There must be clear evidence that worker safety is embedded into the culture and practices of everyone in the organization.

If the employer does not ask and answer these questions of itself, they can be guaranteed that the legal framework, inspectors, and the courts will ask, with potentially devastating answers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your current workplace, what clear evidence shows health and safety due diligence on the part of the employer?
  2. As a Human Resources professional, what steps will you implement for health and safety practices that go beyond minimum safety standards?
  3. Why do you think many employers do not understand the consequences of non-compliance with the law?