OHS Canada Magazine

Purolator’s culture delivers record year for workplace safety

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September 25, 2023
By Todd Humber

Health & Safety OHS Culture Award OHS Honours Purolator

Photo: Purolator

2023 OHS Culture Award

Gold: Purolator
Silver: CRH Canada
Silver: Bison Transport

In 2022, Purolator recorded what it called its safest year on record. And that momentum isn’t slowing down, according to Jimmy Vassilopoulos, National Director, Health and Safety, who expects 2023 to be an even better year.

The freight and logistics giant, which has 14,000 employees across 190 facilities who delivered 160 million packages last year, won the Gold OHS Culture Award for 2023 as part of OHS Honours.

The key to transforming safety was creating a comprehensive framework that defined what a good culture meant, he said. The goal was to shift from a culture where employees act safely because they have to — something Vassilopoulos described as “not sustainable” to one where safety is intrinsic to who they are and what they do.

Leadership drives safety

It all starts at the top, according to Tennyson Devoe, Vice-President, Talent, Learning and Safety, at Purolator.


President and CEO John Ferguson, along with the senior leadership team, have invested heavily in health and safety programs and tools, he said. For example, each senior leader has completed the Workplace Mental Health Leadership certification, accredited by Queen’s University.

Leaders are also actively involved on the ground. They make regular visits to terminals nationwide to see safety protocols in action and encourage open dialogue with employees. These senior leaders are known to participate in weekly company-wide safety calls and consistently report on OHS key performance metrics at meetings across all business levels.

“Safety is by choice, not by chance,” states the company’s long-term strategic plan, where health and safety are listed as organizational goals.

“Three of our five metrics are safety related,” said Devoe, noting that they sit side-by-side with financial and performance metrics.

To reinforce the safety mindset, every Purolator event kicks off with a “health and safety moment,” setting the tone for what lies ahead.

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Employee-driven efforts

Purolator’s safety culture is not only top-down but also driven by its workforce, it said in the nomination.

The company boasts 88 health and safety committees across the nation, where initiatives and metrics are continuously reviewed and improved. These committees also form the backbone of the Behavior Based Safety program that aims to reinforce safe behavior and change at-risk behavior across all its facilities.

Among various recognition programs, the Circle of Excellence and Hands on the Wheel awards are given annually to employees making significant contributions to workplace safety. The awards don’t just recognize safe driving milestones but also efforts made in every business unit and terminal across the network.

Safety on the roads

One of the biggest safety challenges for Purolator is on the roads, said Devoe. That’s because it’s easier to engineer out risks in controlled environments in a facility, but it’s a different story when you have “a semi-truck driving down a major highway” in what he described as an “uncontrolled environment.”

“There’s not only significant risk, but there can be very high severity in that type of environment,” he said. “We wanted to have a metric that would help us keep a tight line of sight on what’s happening on the road.”

Often, metrics around road safety are lagging ones — waiting until an accident happens and then doing the remedial work to find out what went wrong, he said.

Instead, Purolator wanted to construct a leading indicator that would “reinforce both the positive as well as the constructive side of on-road safety.”

It built a driver scorecard, using telematics in Purolator vehicles, to identify behaviours such as harsh braking and cornering, speeding, and seatbelt use.

“We are now able to generate, for each facility, a report card that identifies drivers that over the last week who haven’t gotten into an accident, or into a collision, but where there have been some indicators that driving behaviours that could be improved,’” said Devoe. “For example, perhaps they’re abruptly braking. It has nothing to do with discipline, but rather creating the opportunity for coaching and mentoring conversations that will support increased on-road safety for our drivers.”

On the flip side, Purolator also recognizes the 10 drivers in the building with the safest behaviours. It drives home the message that company is not just interested in holding people accountable for mistakes, but it also has a culture that recognizes and rewards employees who are taking the lead and showing what safe behaviour looks like.

Innovations in safety

Last year, Purolator invested in technology to support its holistic approach to employee well-being. This included the Mood App, which connects driving habits to daily mental health activities, and driver simulators for enhanced safe driving training. Pilot programs for Exoskeleton and Vacuum Lift technologies were also introduced to support the physical well-being of frontline employees.

Purolator has further expanded its safety programs to include a comprehensive focus on mental and social health. The launch of Purolator Health supports the overall well-being of employees and their families. Additionally, an Enterprise Mental Health Training program was implemented, with every employee and leader completing eLearning courses focused on mental health stigma and allyship.

A holistic approach

Vassilopoulos said a big reason behind the company’s success in creating a strong safety culture is a focus on total health. It aims to integrate physical, mental, and psychological variables in the company’s risk assessment and management strategies, he said.

“We need to not be shy in taking in all the variables,” said Vassilopoulos, adding that well-being and mental states play a huge role in how workers behave and react.

“Our target over the next two years it to have an equal number of physical first-aid responders and psychological first-aid responders, in every single one of our terminals,” he said. “That’s how important this is.”

The company also has a dedicated website, PurolatorHealth.com, to support the physical, mental, and social health of employees and their families. The program features Canadian fitness icons Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod as ambassadors.

Winning the award

Devoe said winning the OHS Culture Award represents a collective achievement for the entire company, not just the safety team.

“This is not an HR award. This is not a safety team award,” he said. “This is a company award, because we can build the best programs out there — but, at the end of the day, if each of our leaders and employees across the organization don’t care about it and prioritize it, then nothing is going to get off the ground.”


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