Safety Days at SaskPower shows how an organization can go from thinking about health and safety to doing something that shares practical skills and values.
SaskPower is a strategic partner of Safe Saskatchewan, dedicated to the goal of achieving Mission: Zero. The annual event is a strong example of how a workplace and its employees can take the time to ensure health and safety is a core focus of each work day.
It started simply. Four SaskPower supervisors brainstormed ideas around a table about how to focus on safety. In the span of 13 years, it has grown into an annual event centred around safety awareness and prevention that brings together SaskPower staff from across the province.
“We were having a few incidents and so we were just looking for an opportunity to shut things down for a day and really focus on safety and start to move that needle,” recalled Ted Elliott, SaskPower’s vice-president of distribution services and one of the four supervisors at the first unofficial meeting in 2004 in Kindersley. “We wore the dangerous work idea as a badge of honour.”
“We’re now landing on a position that dangerous work is a choice. We do have inherit hazards with our work but we do not do dangerous work.”
After that first meeting of supervisors, an event was planned for Kindersley the following year. A handful of employees from Saskatoon travelled to that first event. The next year, the group from Saskatoon hosted its own event and were joined by SaskPower staff from Weyburn. These events have been strongly supported by frontline staff and have grown from that support.
This year, nearly one-third of SaskPower’s workforce – likely a record number – took part in Safety Days. The six-day event hosted in late September in Saskatoon and Regina drew employees together from across Saskatchewan. Those employees work in various departments for SaskPower including transmission, distribution, engineering and business support. Over the six days, more than 1,000 participated.
Safety Days this year were packed with activities. Safety demonstrations with protective gear, various employee skill checks, fitness and health checks, and a simulated safe driving exercise were on the itinerary. So too were guest speakers, such as Phillip Ragain from the RAD Group and Gord Moker, CEO at Safe Saskatchewan.
Having a solid all-around focus on safety was the theme of this year’s Safety Days.
“Our staff need to have that comfort level to be able to speak up,” said Kevin Schwing, Director, Health and Safety for SaskPower. “We need every set of eyes – the older eyes and the younger eyes – working together. If someone doesn’t feel right or sees something that doesn’t look right then we need someone to step forward and say something.”
“With the increases we’re seeing in technology, a 35-year employee isn’t used to having a cellphone on site or having to deal with a computer – so that becomes a distraction for them,” explained Monte Mitchell, operations manager at SaskPower. “We’re addressing some the hazards we didn’t have 20 years ago.”
“It can sometimes be a high-risk job and we try to take the danger out of that job by addressing some of the things we do here.”
The timing of this year’s Safety Days was strategic in that autumn is a hectic time for the majority of SaskPower staff. Before winter settles in and the ground freezes, frontline workers have a lot on their plates this time of year.
“It was important for everyone that we took the time to slow down and focus on safety,” Mitchell said. “There is a lot of work out there right now, but being safe in what we do is a priority.”
Thanks to the emergence of Safety Days, Elliott and others agreed they’re seeing a shift in culture so employees approach their jobs with health and safety as a focus. Involving different departments within the company has spurred an ongoing dialogue about workplace safety.