Back in 2000, the health and safety environment at the Greater-Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) presented a much different picture from what it is today. The school board had no existing health and safety management program, and was struggling for clear direction. This, combined with a less than desirable track record, two dysfunctional multi-site Joint Health and Safety Committees, numerous health and safety complaints and a Ministry of Labour fine, charge and conviction, made matters difficult for a number of years. It was clear that reform was necessary.
Juggling 4,700 employees, 90 work sites, 16 unions and 37,000 students spanning 9 municipalities, the GECDSB is one of the largest employers in Windsor-Essex. Tim Lauzon came on board as Health and Safety Officer in 2000. Knowing that it is vital for an employer of this magnitude to have an effective and organized health and safety program, Lauzon began his work.
Since their conviction, there is no doubt that the GECDSB has made occupational health and safety a high priority, making significant structural changes, developing and implementing effective programs and going above and beyond the minimum requirements at every turn.
From Multi-Site to Site-Based
In 2006, PSHSA’s Ed Hager was brought in to perform a health and safety audit of the school board. Of the many recommendations outlined in the report, the first was perhaps the most profound.
Once donning a multi-site Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) structure, the school board decided on a different approach to H&S management: site-based JHSCs. Their experience with multi-site JHSCs had always been more negative than positive. The multi-site structure seemed to circumvent the Internal Responsibility System. To add to this, two multi-site committees travelling across the county and visiting each and every site was not proven to be time nor cost efficient. While most school boards and municipalities still operate using multi-site structures, the alternative just seemed to make the most sense for the GECDSB.
Since implementation, site-based JHSCs have been very successful for the GECDSB mainly because they are largely self-managing. Principal and worker members are familiar with their workplace; they have a vested interest in the site’s occupational health and safety as it impacts them directly. In support of this, both the legislation and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) are written according to the site-based structure. One only has to consider workplace health and safety issues such as fire, WHMIS, asbestos management or emergency response plans. Policies and procedures must be unique to each site as no school or office is identical in its layout or contents. Effective health and safety management requires details that are specific to each site.
Another positive result of the site-based structure has been the adherence to the completion of monthly inspections. Under the old multi-site structure, monthly inspections were not always completed. Now, with the development and enforcement of written procedures, and the support of Senior Administration, all committees and members are aware of their responsibilities and inspections are carried out on a timely basis. In fact, an inspection has never been missed.
JHSC meetings take place on a quarterly basis in September, December, March and June. Each year, committees experience less and less turnover. This is attributed to an improved culture, where members enjoy participating on the committee at their respective work sites. The GECDSB has found that most members stay on year after year, and reapply to committees when they change sites.
PSHSA and Hager have stood by Lauzon and the school board throughout this transition, and can confirm that these are the signs of a properly working model.
The Importance of Training
The GECDSB held their first Health and Safety Certification course with PSHSA in 2007, with the participation of 60 school principals. It came as a surprise to most that, under the new site-based structure, as supervisors, they were responsible and accountable for health and safety in the workplace. It is now a practice of the GECDSB to have all school principals obtain Health and Safety Certification Part 1 and 2 training. This is a significant commitment, as the training involves three full days of instruction, but it is also an important statement. The GECDSB believes it is important to communicate that health and safety is a priority from the top-down. The training requirement is a direct reflection of ownership and support of occupational health and safety. PSHSA continues to provide this training to the school board every year in both September and February. The GECDSB and PSHSA have now certified approximately 525 worker and management members.
Robust Programs, Effective Resources
Back in 2000, while there may have been a health and safety policy in place, there were no programs to speak of. Today, however, you would be hard-pressed to find one that is missing. Lauzon and the GECDSB have developed and established health and safety programs for WHMIS, lifting devices, emergency response and asbestos, just to name a few. All programs have been customized to each and every site within the school board. Every one of the programs also undergoes an annual review. This ensures that the programs remain current, sustainable, and “aren’t collecting dust”, as Lauzon puts it.
Their new online “Portal” grants all staff access to a variety of health and safety resources, including weather alerts, site-specific policies and programs, and maps of each site where violence has occurred in the past or has the potential to occur. The availability of resources to all staff supports the school board’s belief that sharing and offering guidance will assist to improve the programs.
The GECDSB believes that school boards should work together when it comes to health and safety, and is willing to share resources and offer guidance to others who are seeking to improve their programs.
The GECDSB is proud of the strong partnerships they have developed with their staff, unions, Ministries and other school boards. These important relationships have made the school board’s health and safety journey both enjoyable and successful, and have facilitated a dramatic growth in health and safety culture at the GECDSB.
The numbers also substantiate the changing environment; injury statistics have decreased by 25% in the past two years alone.
Each and every year, the Health and Safety Department, which resides under Facility Services, evaluates injury and illness statistics for each site and hazard, and creates annual Accident and Injury Prevention Plans which set out plans of action for focusing on high risk areas and hazards over the next year. Lauzon sees the annual Accident and Injury Prevention Plan as the “wheels that keep health and safety in motion” at the GECDSB.
This year, the GECDSB Health and Safety Department has grown. Lauzon welcomes two new team members: Diana Kempe, a second Health and Safety Officer, and Leigh Anne Smillie, providing administrative assistance. The team is committed to further develop the health and safety culture, always striving for continuous improvement. This growth is a sign of success, and will allow for site auditing, a key aspect of 2014’s Accident and Injury Prevention Plan.
When it comes to occupational health and safety, it takes strength to admit you need assistance and even more to take action toward improvement. We congratulate the Greater-Essex County District School Board on the progression of their Health and Safety Management System. A lot of passion and hard work goes into transforming health and safety, and you have set an inspirational example.
PSHSA values the partnership we have built with the GECDSB over the past 14 years, and we look forward to continuing to work together to improve occupational health and safety in Ontario education.