By Janet Lane
In the Edmonton Journal
June 7, 2017
Despite the efforts of employers, safety certifications, and binders full of rules and regulations, too many people continue to be hurt or even fatally injured at work.
Last year alone there were 1.5 Workers’ Compensation claims for every 100 people on the job. That’s part of what makes the story of an Edmonton-based company, Waiward Steel, so compelling. The firm has improved its safety record by 800 per cent, banking more than 4.6 million hours without lost time due to safety incidents. Their team did it without adding more safety training; in fact their approach isn’t about safety – it’s about competence. Other employers should take note.
Waiward reached its safety goal by implementing a competency management system – assessing each of its workers to make sure they know how to do every part of their job. When training gaps were found, training was provided.
Besides transforming workplace safety, the company benefitted their employees, improved productivity and reduced costs.
It sounds simple enough, but for employers to move safety from compliance to competence takes time and resources. Commitment from the top down is essential. Employers are responsible for ensuring their workers are job ready. Relying on safety certificates and training credentials is generally accepted as the simplest, most efficient way to indicate who is up to the task. But the only way employers can be sure their people will be safe on the job is to be sure they really know how to do each part of what their job requires every day.
In an industrial workplace, every new employee needs at least some orientation to the way work is done. Most need a lot more training than basic orientation. Failing to objectively assess job skills of new employees, especially younger employees, has led to some devastating workplace injuries and worse still, fatalities.
For years, employers have been complaining about hiring graduates, with great credentials, who are missing some of the skills they assumed they would have. But the only sure-fire way to know if employees are competent is to assess them, through on-the-job observation using objective criteria to see if they meet standards.
This kind of approach will likely pick up on the need for further training for some employees. Unused skills will have gotten rusty, workers trying new tasks will have to get over the learning curve. But hundreds of people die each year in Canada from injuries sustained on the job. Some of those injuries are caused because employers didn’t ensure that their people were job ready that day.
Waiward is not the only firm that has discovered the value of competent workers. But it has gone further than most employers by developing a full competency program and making it available to other firms in their sector and supply chain.
Compentency-based training, assessment and credentialing is well-established in Europe. Employers, training institutions and workers all know what a specific competency entails and work together so that workers can actually do the task and do it safely. Workers can move from one job to another and employers will know what they can do and what training they will need before they take on a different task.
The Canada West Foundation’s latest report, Beyond the Rules: Moving safety from compliance to competence, which documents the Waiward Steel story, shows that while the benefit to the company is huge, the benefit to their workers of being safe on the job is life-changing. The benefit to Canadians will be realized when an industry-driven set of competency frameworks is embraced.
In the long run, ensuring that employees are competent will also help firms to attract and retain good talent, compete more effectively in their local and global economy, adapt to technological changes, and ultimately, bring greater satisfaction to their shareholders. What’s more – it will make Canada a safer place to work.
Janet Lane is the director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation.