Do not be a Pinball Wizard!

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Many pundits, including myself, continue to question the effectiveness of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) in Canada.

What is happening with JHSCs in Canadian workplaces? Most organizations understand the legal requirement to have a JHSC, and most JHSC members are smart dedicated employees that are committed about health and safety. Canadian organizations spend time and money to make sure their JHSC works – but it usually doesn’t.  What is happening?  It is a strange paradox which I call the “pinball effect.”

Even though video games have long since replaced the old-style arcade pinball machine, I think millennials would understand how they work.  For those that have never played a pinball machine, it’s basically a metal ball hitting an electrified bumper and moving in random directions, where the player has very little control over where it goes.

Click here if you want to see one in action.

Most JHSCs behave like a pinball machine – hence the term pinball effect. Most JHSCs start off with direction, just like when the ball is shot out into the pinball machine, then the fun begins once the metal ball gets bounced around in a haphazard fashion. Let’s expand on this metaphor with a summary of a typical JHSC activity: the monthly safety inspection.

The JHSC does a safety inspection and they obtain a long list of complaints from the workers about all the things that need fixed. The JHSC member is now bouncing from complaint to complaint, in a random way. The JHSC member writes up the complaints and gives them to the managers or the maintenance department who quickly become overwhelmed and don’t complete the tasks.

The workers get frustrated at the JHSC because they never get anything accomplished, the JHSC members become disengaged because of perceived lack of support from management, and management feels it is spending time and money on the safety program but not seeing the results. Everyone is just compounding each other’s unmet needs.  That is why I call it the pinball effect.

Since no one has ever solved a problem by complaining, here is my recommendation to avoid the JHSC pinball effect. The number one way to overcome this pinball effect is to change the focus of your JHSC monthly inspections.  Your JHSC should not be walking around every month with a clipboard identifying hazards. What should happen is this: the JHSC becomes the auditors of how well the safety program is being embraced with the organizations; if they see a hazard on their inspection, they should not write the hazard down. What they should do is ask two very important audit type questions, one to the worker and one to the supervisor. Here are the questions:

  • To the worker: Why did you not report this hazard to your supervisor?
  • To the supervisor: Why did you not identify and correct this hazard?

The JHSC should be writing down the answers and then taking them back to the JHSC meeting for discussion and recommendations to correct the Health and Safety program. This is how you avoid the pinball effect.

Discussion Questions

What other interventions would you recommend as a HR professional to improve the effectiveness of your organizations’ JHSC?

Click on this link to download a JHSC assessment tool.

Review the tool. Identity which assessments questions you feel are more valuable to improve the effectiveness of a JHSC. Create a smaller questionnaire with the 10 questions your feel are the most important.


Striking A Balance

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As we have learned in our industrial relations studies, taking strike action is a decision made by the members of a bargaining unit in order to send a very strong message to the employer. This message is usually clear about the lack of progress at, or acceptance of proposals from the negotiating table. Taking strike action is not something that unions do lightly. It is a strong tactic, used for leverage in order to influence the employer to do better at the table. The message is simple and clear, the employees will not work until the issues that are unresolved through the bargaining process are settled and a new contract is proposed between the parties.

The power of a strike lies in the lack of employee labour, which means that the employer’s levels of production would be impacted in a negative way. No work should mean no production and no output.

What happens, however, when the union goes on strike and the work continues? This scenario is playing out with the ground crew workers who work at Toronto Pearson International Airport. These workers are employees of Swissport. They are represented by the Teamster’s union (Local 419) and they went on strike in late July. The work, however, is continuing.

The duties that are usually done by ground crew workers are now being done by management or supervisory staff which has raised the risk of safety issues, specifically linked to the duties of load controllers.

Click here to read the article on load controllers.

As noted in the article, the few supervisors who have taken on the duties of specialized load controllers are working around the clock to ensure that customer flights are not impacted negatively. This arrangement, however, raises some significant risk concerns not only for the safety of airline crew and passengers, but also for the supervisors who have taken on multiple additional workloads. The leverage played out in this scenario does not seem to be enough to cause the employer to amend its position at the bargaining table. One wonders, however, how much of a risk the employer is willing to take before safe airline travel comes to an unfortunate stop?

Discussion Questions:

  1. The article describes supervisors taking over the duties of specialized workers during this strike. From a Human Resources perspective, what types of employment-related concerns does this raise?
  2. In your opinion, how much of a risk would you be willing to take in order to keep airplanes and the paying customer moving?
  3. What issues need to be settled in order for this dispute to be resolved?

Is It Too Much? Virtual Safety Training

future, technology and people concept - man in futuristic glasses
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Let it be said that Health and Safety training has not always had the greatest reception in most organizations. It is often perceived as dry, directive, outdated and, due to the mandatory nature of several Health and Safety components, simply a ‘must-do’ in order to get on with the business of the day.

It is no wonder that most employers are looking for effective and engaging methods to change how health and safety training is delivered in the modern workplace.

Enter virtual safety training.

Using existing virtual technology, employers can now offer simulated settings to any workplace that provide the feeling of a real-life situation in a safe and secure environment.

Human Condition Systems has developed virtual training programs for numerous environments. These programs simulate potentially dangerous work settings so that workers can develop effective responses to extremely stressful situations. The most recent program introduced by Human Condition Systems is a virtual training tool which can be used to prepare workplaces and employees to respond to active shooting situations.

Click here to read the article and watch the promotional clip.

As Canadians we may not perceive this type of ‘extreme’ training tool as necessary. We pride ourselves on having low incidents of violent workplace shootings but they do exist. Perhaps the introduction of this type of technology will allow for more discussion, more engagement and more safety preparedness linked to the possibilities of real threats to and within our current workplaces.

If a virtual reality program helps save one person’s real life in the workplace, then maybe the time has come for this change.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What types of industries do you think would benefit from offering virtual safety training to employees?
  2. What types of risks might be related to the introduction of virtual safety training in Canadian workplaces?
  3. What was your reaction to the video clip embedded in this article?


The Precautionary Principle

How to understand risk versus the perception of risk.

Understanding risk management is a fundamental skill for any HR practitioner wishing to explore a career in Health and Safety (H&S). As the Human Resources function continues to increase its role in relation to Health and Safety, risk management is quickly becoming a core competency for any HR practitioner. By understanding risk we can actively implement controls to reduce, or better yet, eliminate safety risks for all employees in the workplace.

The following video clip which explains understanding hazard recognition, risk assessment and controls.

Source: The above content constitutes a link to the source website. Please click on the play icon to stream the video.

This video clip does a great job at summarizing the overall concept of risk management and risk assessment as it touches on terms such as:

  • Hazard
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • The Precautionary principle

If a company’s goal is to truly improve workplace safety and eliminate injuries and illnesses, it must have an effective risk management assessment system in order to drive its safety efforts. Risk assessment is a very simple concept that does not seem to get a lot of traction in the workplace. It is a powerful preventative tool that could and should be used effectively.

By developing a comprehensive risk assessment system and then implementing controls to reduce the work with the greatest risks, any organization will be able to achieve the overarching goal of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a new HR practitioner, how has this video provided you with a better understanding of: hazard recognition, assessment and control?
  2. Your company wants you to research and recommend a form to be used as a hazard assessment tool. Research different types of hazard assessment forms that are available. Select one that you think is most effective and explain why you selected it.
  3. Explain the difference between hazard assessment and risk assessment.