From Surrey’s safety champion to Hall of Famer: Satnam Chauhan’s indelible legacy
OHS Canada Hall of Fame OHS Honours
Satnam (Sam) Chauhan had a lonely start as a safety professional at the City of Surrey. He came over from the City of Vancouver, where he was surrounded by a dozen OHS employees.
But in Surrey, it was just him — and he sat in his office for the first two days, waiting for instructions and guidance that never came. He went and knocked on the door of his boss, inquiring about any specific tasks that needed to be done.
The response? “Well, no. You need to go out there and figure out what you need to do.”
Chauhan seized that opportunity to take a proactive approach to safety, reaching out to various departments like engineering operations, parks, and civic facilities to get an understanding of the safety landscape facing employees.
“I had an empty canvas,” he said.
He painted that canvas over the decades, building a successful career, improving the lives of workers one-by-one and now he has been inducted into the OHS Canada Hall of Fame for his body of work.
“The last 26 years have flown by, whoa, like a jet,” said Chauhan. “We started with nothing. No safety training and I had an old risk management health and safety policy.”
He focused on building relationships with leaders, key stakeholders, managers, workers and unions.
“Now, I’ve got a team of four individuals, we’ve got 35 different safety programs, we’ve got 37 different occupational health and safety courses, we’ve got online training,” he said. But what he’s most proud of is the culture that has been established at the city.
“Everybody and anyone can bring up a safety issue to their manager,” he said. “And it’s not taboo. It’s a comfortable interaction. We’re moving in a direction where we’re trying to be a leader in local government. But it’s a team approach — safety cannot live on its own.”
A long-standing advocate
Not all the work he does is within the confines of the city. Since 2015, Chauhan has been an active member of the Employers Forum in British Columbia, serving in various roles including director and president.
The forum is dedicated to maintaining an effective workers’ compensation system, balancing the needs of employees and employers for a safe, productive workplace. The organization serves as an advocacy body, facilitating communication between the employer community and workers on compensation issues.
Chauhan is also a long-standing member of the British Columbia Municipal Association, which offers events, certificates, and training aimed at health and safety management. He has been an active participant since 2012, supporting the association’s mission of annual evaluation and implementation of safety measures.
A history of commitment in education
From 2014 to 2018, Chauhan served as the chair of the BCIT OHS Program Advisory Committee, although his involvement dates back to 1995.
This role underscored his dedication to educational efforts in the field of occupational safety and his belief in the importance of well-informed practitioners.
When asked about this extracurricular safety work, he demurred.
“Safety is a passion, it’s not really a job,” he said. “This is a way of me giving back to improve worker health and safety in the whole province.”
Making an impact
Chauhan’s leadership can be measured in countless ways, including a reduction in loss-time injury claims at the City of Surrey. He implemented a supervisory safety certificate program which provided staff with education, training and support and this helped raise safety awareness and reduce workplace injuries.
This resulted, for example, in a 19% premium discount from WorkSafeBC. Chauhan also developed a city-wide onboarding safety training program, aimed at new and current staff.
He has also shown a commitment to mental health wellness among workers, particularly in work areas where staff are exposed to traumatic events. He has worked with IAFF 1271 and Surrey Fire Services to develop a comprehensive Wellness program addressing mental wellness that includes peer support teams, counselling, and regular staff check-ins.
Through his partnership with the British Columbia Municipal Safety Association and CUPE 402, he recently piloted a Psychological Health & Safety Supervisor and Worker education and training certificate programs.
“That’s the new frontier that many people didn’t want to deal with — because its complex and multidimensional,” he said.
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Balancing demands of management, union
Chauhan brought nine years of union membership into his role, and worked hard to build credibility and trust with both sides of the bargaining table.
One interesting innovation involves conducting “joint investigations, very transparent, very collaborative with union executives,” he said.
The process involves a respectful agreement and disagreement approach, allowing for a nuanced understanding between management and workers.
“It was never always about penalizing workers; it was about fixing the gaps in improving the communications, and getting the right tools available,” he said.
Interestingly, this approach has paved the way for “off-the-record conversations” with unions, enabling both sides to understand the authentic intentions behind official positions.
“Both sides have actually seen that I’m not a ‘yes’ person. And I’m trying to bring both parties together to win-win,” said Chauhan.
Willingness to engage
Beyond his institutional roles, Chauhan stands out for his willingness to engage with staff at all levels. Whether it’s workplace safety inspections or injury reports, he makes himself available for consultation almost any time of the day or night.
“We cannot imagine anyone more deserving of this recognition,” the nomination statement reads, a sentiment that seems to encapsulate the widespread respect and gratitude for Chauhan’s tireless work.
Chauhan said he was in a “state of shock” when he found out he had been inducted into the 2023 class.
“It’s nice to be recognized for this work in the field by my peers,” he said. “It actually brought tears to my eyes. It’s a very prestigious award. Sometimes, we’re the unsung heroes.”
A passion for farming
If you talk to Chauhan long enough, you’ll probably hear about his blueberry farm and the passion he has for the land and growing the crop.
“I apply that same philosophy to kind of my work here, right? You’re nurturing relationships to kind of get them to grow,” he said.
In farming, as in his day job, he recognizes the cyclical nature of things, from bad weather affecting crops to fluctuating conditions in workplace health and safety.
“Sometimes the weather’s bad, early frost, you’ll have a good crop, bad crop. So it’s very cyclical, just like health and safety,” he said.