Make me, show me, watch me!

There are three types of employers when it comes to safety practices, according to an interesting Irishman I met last week. Tom Beegan, who was CEO of the Republic of Ireland's Health And Safety Authority until he moved recently to Canada to become the Chief Prevention Officer of the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) of Ontario, told me that employers fall into these types:

  • "Make me!" Companies that won't optimize their health and safety practices unless they're forced to. ("And we're going to!" says Beegan.)
  • "Show me" Companies that aren't resistant to change, they just lack the knowledge and experience to know what to do and await instruction by governing bodies such as OSHA, WSIB and others.
  • "Watch me!" These are the superstar companies, the ones that seek out the best information about health and safety and then apply it to all their operations for the benefit of all their employees. (a.k.a. Safety Champions.)

When I asked Beegan to give me an example of a "Watch Me" effort, he mentioned the "CEO charter" in place in Ontario that a handful of utilities and petrochemical companies have signed and that WSIB endorses. This voluntary progam is expected to grow across Canada, Beegan says, and it extends to any contractors which whom CEO charter members do business re: their safety and health records.

When it comes to "Make Me," Canada has its four-year-old Bill C-45, a strong piece of federal legislation which states that if any president or board of director member or workplace supervisor knows of any danger prior to any accident occuring, they will be held liable with fines up to $500,000 and jail time. Unfortunately, though, nobody of significance has served any time yet because of Bill C-45.

Go directly to jail, do not collect accolades

Now, I'm no lawyer but it strikes me that enforcing this kind of legislation (see also OSHA raising the stakes around employers at fault in worker deaths) seems like the only approach when it comes to tackling the "Make Me" type of profit-seeking, risk-minimizing corporations!

The chance of being sued and paying a huge fine and/or going to jail is a mighty effective stick (versus dangling carrots such as signing a "willingness memo"!) In the post-Enron days, corporations cannot afford to ignore compliance issues - not just in financial matters.

Top legislative priorities in 2007 (especially for advocates such as Senator Ted Kennedy) are to update this enforcement provision as well as to pass the Protecting America's Workers Act.

Oh, and the place where chief prevention officer Beegan and I were chatting about his organization's "Make Me, Show Me, Watch Me" strategy? The media launch of the WSIB's annual Summer Job Safety campaign and safety video competition - attended by a full house of government officials (Ministers of education and labor, many dozens of agency workers and union reps) as well as rows of high school students there to support their colleagues who won the video awards) but...

NOT A SINGLE COMPANY was present at the auspicious WSIB event!! Not one "Watch Me!" executive to put substance to the day's focus on getting employers to support safer working conditions for young people!

A room full of government and union officials doesn't cut it - it's the classic "preaching to the converted."

Our young workers deserve more; they need to witness the commitment of the actual employers who hold their lives in their hands. I have two teens about to enter the workforce - I, for one, want to see and hear and believe companies on the record about safety!



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