Building a behaviour-based culture of safety.

When D’Arcy Smith made the transition from automotive manufacturing to agriculture, he noticed that the industry was somewhat behind the times, from a health and safety perspective. He attributes this to the “get ’er done” attitude that is common in agriculture.

“Your mind is on the task at hand – you’re focused on getting the job done as quickly as you can,” says Smith.

When he joined Agrico Canada L.P. (Agrico) two years ago, Smith wasted no time implementing a new behaviour-based health and safety program. Within a month of starting his position as risk and operations manager, Agrico staff were using his “Stop. Think. Act.” mantra.

Stop. Think. Act. encourages workers to pause and assess their environment for anything that doesn’t seem safe. Even when on a tight timeline, if a hazard is identified, action is taken to correct it before work can continue. When necessary, the appropriate people are called in for assistance.

This change has resonated throughout the company, and helped renew Agrico’s commitment to creating a culture of safety.

According to John Dyck, terminal manager at Agrico’s facility in Oak Bluff, Man., the Stop. Think. Act. program is a significant improvement from the “common sense” way safety was handled in the past.

“We had a good safety record before, but I think we’re a lot more ahead of the game now than we used to be,” says Dyck. “This program is much more proactive. It’s about knowing what you’re getting into, before you get into it.”

When the program was introduced, speaking up – the “act” in Stop. Think. Act. – was initially a stumbling block for some employees who either didn’t want to cause trouble or felt that a solution was beyond their means.

“The one thing I vowed to them is I would much rather they bring something up and we deal with it openly and honestly, than have something happen,” says Smith. “There’s nothing worse than someone saying, ‘Oh, I knew that would happen,’ or, ‘I mentioned that to somebody years ago.’

“We assure employees that they can do the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing. We might be in the middle of a critical path, but if something doesn’t look right, it isn’t right. We need to stop, speak up, and make sure we’re proceeding safely.”

Smith stresses that you can always take time upfront to assess a situation, but, “When it comes to people’s lives, you can’t go back in time to change things,” he says.

Empowering Through Example

For Smith, taking a proactive, collaborative approach has been the key to getting employees excited about safety.

Whether it’s talking about situations the team encounters off-site, or discussing accidents that resulted from unsafe practices reported in the media, Smith says encouraging employees to share what he calls “near misses” has helped keep safety top-of-mind on – and off – the job.

These discussions are common throughout the company and involve employees at every level. During monthly safety meetings at Agrico’s Oak Bluff terminal, team members are called on to present a safety-related issue they’re interested in. According to Dyck, this opportunity to be a meaningful part of the conversation has made a big impact on employees’ attitudes.

“It’s not common for people to look forward to safety meetings, but here it’s really gone that way,” says Dyck. “Encouraging people to talk about situations they’ve encountered and how they’ve resolved issues in the past has gotten everyone more interested in safety.”

Smith says he is proud of how the team at Agrico has embraced Stop. Think. Act. He says he often sees team members sharing safety ideas and practices with retailers when they come to pick up product at the terminals, and he has received calls specifically about the program.

“When we talk to people about it, there’s often a bit of a laugh, because it is such a simple concept,” he says. “It’s not rocket science – it’s just getting the thought process into your people, empowering them, and then giving them the freedom to use it properly.”

To illustrate this point, Smith describes a situation that occurred at the Hamilton terminal in December 2017. An employee working in the yard noticed a large, bright green cloud heading towards the Agrico building. He called for all work to stop and got all employees indoors before the dust, an accidental release from one of the industries located across the bay, reached the building.

“Before the program, the guys likely would have just gone about doing their business,” says Smith. “In this case, they had the wherewithal to identify the risk and get everyone out of the way, effectively shutting down our operation to keep people safe. These guys having the confidence in themselves to look at a critical situation and make a difference is huge.”

Focus on the Mindset

Smith believes Stop. Think. Act., or a similar behaviour-based safety program along with its supporting activities, can easily be applied to a retail operation. Smith’s advice to retailers thinking about introducing a program is to take time to focus on the employee mindset, as that will be crucial to implementing any safety changes, big or small.

“Empowering your people with the confidence and support to be free-thinking individuals is critical. If they don’t understand how to identify a risk, or don’t take the time to identify risks, then I don’t believe you’re going to be successful in any safety program,” he says.

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