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City of Edmonton launches review of workplace safety

DuPont to conduct review of people, processes and equipment


(Canadian OH&S News) — Nearly three months after the death of a sewer worker, the City of Edmonton has initiated a comprehensive review of the safety culture of municipal workplaces. But a spokesperson has said that the review is not a response to the sewer tragedy or any other incident.

The City had already launched a general safety initiative of which the new review is a part, according to Doug Jones, Edmonton’s deputy city manager of operations. On Jan. 25, the City Council held a presentation announcing the review, which will examine three distinct areas: people, processes and technology.

“The City of Edmonton leads in so many areas,” explained Jones. “We decided we wanted to be a leader in safety in the municipal area. And so what does that mean? It’s saying, ‘How do we train our people to be safe? How do we train our leaders in the organization at all levels to exhibit the right safety-leadership behaviours? How do we promote all the right things about safety?’”

The goal is not only to create a safer environment for City employees, but also to translate the positive effects of that into the public realm, he added.

“Some organizations would traditionally discipline around a safety incident, so then it’s moving away from discipline to learning about it and putting the processes in place to eliminate the risk.”

The City has hired consulting firm DuPont Sustainable Solutions to conduct the review, which will evaluate the safety culture from the ground up, from the frontline workers up to the executive levels. Among the areas that DuPont will examine are training and equipment.

“Technology’s changing so rapidly,” said Jones. “Are there other things out there that we could use that maybe weren’t available five years ago?”

A 44-year-old City employee died while working underground on a sanitation sewer project last Nov. 2. A stop-work order from Alberta’s Ministry of Labour shut down the site to allow for an investigation, and the City voluntarily suspended all tunnelling work in Edmonton. The latter shutdown was lifted on Jan. 16, according to local media reports.

But Jones said that the safety review was not launched in reaction to the sewer fatality. “The initiative was started before that was going on,” he said.

“Certainly when you have a tragic incident like that, it gets your attention,” he added. “We have to learn from them.” But the safety initiative came from a new leadership team that made a decision to pursue safety excellence last year.

A Jan. 25 story about the safety review in the Calgary Herald noted that EPCOR Utilities Inc. had submitted a proposal to take over the city’s drainage system and save the City millions of dollars in lost-time incidents and Workers’ Compensation Board rebates. But Jones denied that the proposal had any relevance to the timing of the safety review.

“There’s a consequence of when you do the right things, there’s some financial benefits that go with it,” he said. “I think they identified something like $600,000 in savings. That wasn’t a driving factor.”

Instead, the City wants to find ways to enhance its approach to occupational safety. “Are there things that we need to do and change,” he said, “to drive a culture of safety excellence?”