Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Improving Organizational Safety through a Health and Safety Management System
Year Submitted 2018
Awarded Honourable Mention
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Philip Stack Associate Vice-President, Risk Management Services
Rob Munro Director, Environment, Health and Safety
Name of Institution University of Alberta
Office Address 1204 College Plaza
8215–112 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2C8
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Telephone: 780-492-4976
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Gitta Kulczycki
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President, Finance and Administration
Office Address 2-04B South Academic Building
11328 - 89 Ave NW
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2J7
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Telephone: 780-492-8254
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

From Wake-up Call to Transformation

In the autumn of 2013 the University of Alberta experienced explosions in two labs, each resulting in significant injuries to a graduate student. The explosions represented a wake-up call, confirming that the university was not doing enough to improve its safety culture. After a review of best practices within both academic and nonacademic settings, the university chose to develop a structured and comprehensive approach to all environment, health and safety activities by implementing its own environment, health and safety management system (EHSMS).

Through the review process leading to implementation, significant deficiencies were identified with the university’s existing health and safety practices. Compliance with standard health and safety practices was inconsistent; there was inadequate coordination within the Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) division; EHS clients voiced frustration with the level of service they received. Further, inspections addressed specific hazards but ignored others; over many years and haphazard evolution of practices, EHS weren’t consistent with the type of forms, definitions and processes used during inspections, creating the potential to easily overlook significant hazards.

Through a comprehensive change process over a three-year period, the university developed and implemented a custom health and safety management system that included:

  • identifying and authorizing a Chief Environment and Safety Officer (CESO)
  • completely reorganizing the EHS unit for alignment by activity rather than by hazard type
  • adopting a customer service approach and staff training program to focus on understanding client issues and helping them meet their goals
  • completely re-writing the university’s health and safety policies
  • updating and confirming EHS responsibilities across the organization through 10 pillars of a health and safety management system
  • establishing health and safety committee structures across the organization with standard terms of reference
  • completely overhauling and expanding e-learning and professional development initiatives
  • achieving efficiencies by analyzing all services to distinguish essential and non-core services while standardizing and systematizing procedures, forms and guidelines
  • adopting a Plan-Do-Check-Act continuous improvement methodology built on a risk-based approach to all hazards
  • enhancing visibility of the EHS unit while elevating the institutional commitment to safety by, among other things, including messages from the university’s president.

With the introduction of the EHSMS, and without increasing the EHS budget, e-learning participation has increased by 30 percent to over 10,000 courses completed per year, personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance has increased from about 45 percent to nearly 90; lab inspections have increased from a few hundred to 1600 annually; safety committees are in place across the organization, all developing annual health and safety plans; a standard on-line hazard assessment application has been launched; and the university’s board of governors receives regular health and safety briefings and education.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Because it was developed for a university, the U of A’s health and safety management system is fully transferable to any university. Elements that can be transferred to another institution include:

  • the framework of the health and safety management system, including its 10 pillars
  • the core elements of the university’s health and safety policy and the key accountabilities of the Chief Environment and Safety Officer
  • 25 e-learning modules, including the new supervisory training e-learning program again is fully transferable to any institution as it is built around the fundamentals of standard occupational, health and safety and hazard assessments
  • the hazard assessment application that was custom-designed by EHS and its partners. The on-line system was developed specifically for universities and functional in a field research setting, in a lab or by trades staff
  • numerous promotional programs and initiatives that were launched to improve the university’s compliance and health and safety practices. These include a
  • “safety commitment statement” signed by the president and installed in all labs and shops; a PPE initiative featuring the “well-dressed researcher;” magnets with the message “we work safely here”.

The University of Alberta, like other U15 institutions, strongly believes in the sharing of best practices and is able to share all elements of its EHSMS. Sharing can be achieved in many ways: the university’s policies are available online and public, as is the president’s safety message; through special arrangement directly with the department, EHS can provide access to other institutions to view and explore its e-learning modules and hazard assessment tool (the university’s “active shooter” video has been licensed to universities across Canada and the US, with licensing revenue providing funds for further, similar projects; a similar model could be used to share already-developed e-learning modules); finally, EHS staff are eager to discuss and describe the framework and the efforts required to put it in place.

Quality Impact

The goal of the university in developing its health and safety management system was to improve the organization’s environment, health and safety culture, which includes the actions, attitudes and behaviours of members of the community. Such a culture includes ethical, moral and practical considerations; it includes ensuring all members have the appropriate skills and knowledge; it includes recognizing lines of authority and responsibility; it involves continuous learning; it includes systems for reporting and investigating incidents; and it includes constant, positive communication.

  • The university wanted to establish the fundamental understanding that, any time you direct the work of another person, you have a responsibility for health and safety.
  • The university wanted to enhance the visual awareness of health and safety through the many educational campaigns and, in particular, the university’s personal protective equipment initiative.
  • Finally, we wanted all members of the university to understand, whether they were a student, staff member, faculty or senior leader, that everyone has a responsibility and a role to play in health and safety.

The expected qualitative outcomes were the enhanced understanding of the board members, senior executive and deans of their leadership responsibilities in health and safety.  
The results were significant. They included:

  • making health and safety training a core requirement for all undergraduate engineering students
  • growing PPE compliance from 45 percent to 90
  • convincing members of the board of governors of their accountability for safety, partly through the introduction of “health and safety moments” at the start of board meetings
  • putting into place health and safety plans for every high-risk faculty and portfolio
  • All of these results were achieved largely over the last three years following the development and implementation of the Health and Safety Management System.
  • doubling e-learning enrolment.
Productivity Impact

Safety programs, like most risk management programs, do not provide easy measures for cost savings for the simple reason that one cannot measure the cost of the incidents that didn’t occur. Still, what is known is that the costs associated with individual incidents grow rapidly and can be high. Costs rapidly accumulate due to lost time, diverted resources (for investigation), legal expenses, fines, hospital stays, insurance, including WCB, and reputational harm. None of these considerable costs compare to the cost of human suffering that affects injured or killed individuals and their families, colleagues and friends.

Further, and also difficult to measure, is the fact that organizations with strong safety cultures typically outperform those without such a culture in most key measures.

What is known, however, is that the University’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety is doing much more without an increase in resources. To repeat:

  • A doubling of e-learning courses taken with a 75 percent increase in courses available.
  • A quadrupling of lab inspections.
  • Doubling of PPE compliance.

The innovative component of this initiative is that it leverages a finite group of 26 individuals to bring comprehensiveness and consistency in environment, health and safety practices to a large, decentralized, highly complex organization.

The university’s health and safety management system was developed following extensive research of best practices in all major industries, then customized to work within a university. The approach includes an innovative organizational structure within EHS that is a departure from a traditional hazard type structure to an activity-based structure.

To our knowledge, there is no similar initiative focused on a university’s health and safety system.

Supporting Documents U_of_Alberta_2018_CAUBO_QP_Award_Submission_2018-01-22_Final_Supporting_Information.pdf