OH&S Professional of the Year: Mathur Variem earns top honour
Health & Safety Human Resources 2021 Awards editor pick OH&S Professional of the Year OHS Canada Honours
By Jack Burton
As Cadillac Fairview Corporation’s director of occupational and life safety, Mathur Variem has had a front-row seat to numerous safety disruptions that the current global pandemic has brought to retail and front-facing workplaces.
The 53-year-old Torontorian is OHS Canada’s inaugural winner of OH&S Professional of the Year, in recognition of his excellent work conducted through COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, Variem not only helped guide and develop occupational health and safety policies across Canada, but he also did so while navigating individual guidelines put forth by local provinces and municipalities across Canada — which were ever-changing.
He led this work through strong leadership and collaboration with departments across the organization, including the executive team, working with the development team on new construction projects, and continuing to enhance the overall health and safety program at each property.
Ensuring his success in facing these difficulties is a no-nonsense safety philosophy that can be traced back to his roots in the oil and gas industry.
“In the oil and gas industry, it was a challenge to make sure that safety is the top priority,” said Variem.
“A lot of times, people do say that ‘safety is our top priority,’ but when it came to the production aspect of oil and gas, there were often people overlooking the requirements while continuing to operate.”
“This is where the mindset and the importance of the safety professional comes in — where there is a huge requirement to do a cultural shift.”
Throughout his career, Variem has worked to reframe the idea of safety away from a set of rules and regulations, towards an overall environment that empowers employees to make educated, safe decisions on their own terms.
Cadillac Fairview’s Canadian portfolio consists of 69 properties from coast to coast, encompassing more than 35 million square feet of retail and office space where millions work, shop, live and play.
By developing the proper procedures, policies, and education resources necessary for Cadillac Fairview’s employees, Variem’s goal has been “to create a cultural shift, making sure that safety is everyone’s responsibility, and nothing prevents anyone from stopping work, asking the necessary questions, or refusing to do any kind of unsafe work.”
The development of the tools and resources needed for creating these shifts in the workplace, especially in front-facing retail environments, has only been accelerated by the pandemic, according to Variem.
“The biggest challenge with the pandemic has been the unknown, and how to create a safe environment for our staff, as well as for customers who are coming to our malls.”
The most efficient path that Variem has found in creating this safe environment during the pandemic has been by offering consistent support to staff across Cadillac Fairview’s many locations through frequent phone calls and open communication lines between staff and management, along with comprehensive and up-to-date educational materials.
COVID or not, at the core of his many accomplishments and initiatives is an unwavering belief in the people and employees that make up workplaces, and his conviction that they deserve all the safety, support, and representation available.
“When I started my career, very early on in the ’90s, the advice given to me from my boss at the time was: listen to people, and the people will tell you the problems that they are facing and the conditions that they’re working in. It is then up to you to make that change. Always walk the talk.”
Jack Burton is a freelance writer in Toronto.