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What does Safety mean to you?

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In a recent interchange, I was asked what safety meant to the OGCA and to the ICI sector. The individual asking was rather flippant about the interchange and expected me to give the standard fare as a retort. Instead of providing them with the requisite soundbites they were seeking, I took them on a journey to demonstrate what safety means to OGCA members.

I should commence this with a disclaimer. I am not a health and safety professional, but I also don’t believe I need to be in order to speak openly about safety. The OGCA is incredibly fortunate to have a plethora of our members participating, sharing and communicating, and volunteering their time from their incredibly hectic schedules to be part of the OGCA Safety Committee. These professionals are the true safety heroes who should be recognized. I am simply their mouthpiece on this matter.

Back to the question, “What does safety mean to you?”

Firstly, I am privileged and incredibly proud to be able to represent an association of contractors that hold health and safety as a fundamental core value as the basis for their creation. Health and safety are actually beliefs that permeate all levels of their organizations, from upper management right down to those on the tools. Our OGCA members facilitate a culture of health and safety on their sites and throughout their companies. They are committed to ensuring that each and every worker goes home safely.

Interviewer: But this sounds like the standard response any President would give…

I’m not done yet!

I have seen this first hand when the unthinkable occurs and there is a fatality within the company. I can recall two that occurred within the last six months: one from an on-site accident and one from a mental health episode.

With both, when I spoke with the owners of the companies, they were beyond distraught. They were personally grieving the loss of one of their own – the same as one would grieve for the passing of a family member. In both cases, the reactions to the losses were incredibly visceral and profoundly raw. The entire company hurt. This sense of family, this sense of belonging, and this sense of loss is what elevates our contractors, and this is what safety means to them: it’s personal.

Secondly, the OGCA pioneered CORTM (the Certificate of Recognition) being brought to Ontario as a means to elevate health and safety to another level. The OGCA has held a longstanding presence with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) for decades, and through this affiliation and exposure to all of the other provinces in Canada, we learned first-hand about a third-party auditing tool that originated out in the western provinces and held construction companies to account on their health and safety policies and procedures.

Trust me when I say that it would have been much simpler to just maintain the status quo of that time and continue as the industry always had. It would also have been much less expensive for contractors to just continue doing what they were always doing. But that wasn’t enough for our contractors in the ICI sector.

The members wanted to elevate health and safety, not because they were forced to do so, but instead, from their underlying fundamental desire to make construction a safer place for all. Our members dedicated themselves to the pursuit of excellence through the betterment of their overall vision of health and safety. As the saying goes, “they put their money where their mouth is,” and raised the bar on health and safety as a sector.

Thirdly, to further enforce the notion of Health and Safety and the leadership that is required to successfully elevate, and then maintain a company on this principle, the OGCA fostered the creation of the League of Champions (LOC). The mission of the LOC is to “inspire and influence leaders to commit, collaborate and take action to improve their safety culture through awareness, education, promotion and recognition leading to safer construction workplaces in Ontario.” The LOC works tirelessly to promote, endorse and advocate for the overall betterment of the health and safety for all of construction.

Once again, this initiative was created by construction, for construction, and not at the behest of an outside influence, but at the sole demand of the construction industry. This is more evidence that the ICI construction sector is fanatical about its desires toward the elevation of health and safety as an overriding concept in all that we do. The sharing of health and safety information in the form of best practices, policies or simply lessons learned from anecdotal situations is invaluable for the entire LOC community and hence why their numbers keep increasing. Safety is not proprietary, and the LOC has demonstrated the synergies that can be achieved through peer assistance.

This brings me to the point where I could have simply noted that “May is Health and Safety Month for OGCA members, a time where the industry renews our continued commitment to health and safety.”

But that’s not what I said. Instead, this is how I phrased it…

The ICI construction sector views each and every day as a Health and Safety Day. Both professionally and personally, our people do not lower the bar on this fundamental principle, and the purpose for May being Health and Safety Month is to outwardly communicate to the rest of the industries in Ontario that they need to step up their game.

Construction understands that the work that we do is inherently dangerous, but that does not automatically lead to the assumption that injuries and fatalities are a foregone conclusion: quite the opposite.

Construction has demonstrated that you can take any action, even something that is perilous, and break it down, educate and train and then execute it at better than acceptable parameters. Why? Because we have a desire to do so. Because our contractors view all of their workers as vital members of our work family and because construction sees health and safety as sacred and something to be revered and respected. We do it because we make a difference when we do.

As an aside, I believe that my visceral reaction to the question clearly shook the interviewer. I did not respond in that fashion to be overly sensationalistic, but instead because that is what I truly believe. Like our members, I too am passionate about health and safety, and as I noted at the onset, you don’t need to be a health and safety professional to carry the flag. You just need to care.

I want to conclude with what the LOC’s health and safety theme is for this month. This message should be shared both within construction and to all the other industries.

Be Present. Be Focused. Be Safe.

Should anyone want to discuss health and safety and what it means to you, or if you require any assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at giovanni@ogca.ca or via phone at 905.671.3969.


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