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Workplace safety, from top to bottom

Kevin Barrett is SAIT's Manager of Health, Safety and Environment.

Christopher Boehme remembers the time he was working on a rig site when a pair of five-ton tongs flew in his direction after a cable line snapped. They missed him but he always remembers the incident and the serious injury that could have resulted.

Boehme says that was one of the reasons behind his decision to enroll in the Bachelor of Science Construction Management program at SAIT.

"I hope to be a positive influence on safety in the construction field and to help build a culture that reflects safety and due diligence," he says.

Boehme was the inaugural recipient of SAIT's Day of Mourning Worker Memorial Scholarship in 2016. Andrew Shelstad, a Mechanical Engineering student, was the second recipient in 2017. Shelstad says he once worked at a job where he was asked to handle dangerous chemicals with little training. He vowed to make a difference when it comes to health and safety in industry.

"We decided to set up a scholarship because it's important to promote workplace safety among workers at the beginning of their careers," says Jennifer Foster, chair of the Day of Mourning Committee. She says the award is open to all SAIT students because workplace safety is an important issue across all industries.

The scholarship's namesake aligns with Canada's National Day of Mourning, held on April 28 to honour people who have been injured, experienced illness or have died due to workplace safety matters. Alberta's Workers Compensation Board says 144 people died in 2016 from illness and injuries in the workplace.

For Kevin Barrett, SAIT's Manager of Health, Safety and Environment, safety in an organization comes down to two things: awareness and culture. Many employers, including SAIT, help create that awareness by developing the programs and committees required to gain and maintain Certificate of Recognition (COR) safety certification. But, he adds, programs alone don't establish a safety culture - people do.

"Safety culture isn't top-down or bottom-up," Barrett explains. "It's both. When owners, senior managers and executives honestly demonstrate that safety is important to them - that they truly care about it and want their employees to go home safe at night - then it's also viewed as important by employees."

Health and safety will be a focus of the next issue of LINK magazine. You can look forward to a feature story on the provincial government's new Westray Memorandum of Understanding and whether it will be enough to help create safer workplaces.

Photographed by Kate Kunz
Written by Eric Rosenbaum
With files from Michelle Woodard and information courtesy of the Worksight, the WCB-Alberta magazine.