Safety at Work –
Good for Business, for Society, and for the
At Aecon, the mantra ‘Zero Tolerance. Zero Harm’ is a goal that
everyone aspires to achieve everyday, everywhere. And it’s working.
And, as Mike Archambault, Aecon VP, Safety & Insurance, says,
“Construction work of all sizes has inherent safety risks. So, as a
responsible corporate leader, we go beyond mere compliance. At
Aecon, safety is our first core value. Safety provides the foundation for a
well run construction project and it drives many of our decisions.”
Safety is also a key aspect of being a sustainable and socially
responsible corporation—doing the right things for the right reasons.
This means operating in a manner that produces economic success, and continually
improves performance in the areas of health and safety, environment and social
responsibility. It also means earning the trust and support of stakeholders – investors,
employees, communities, governments, suppliers, partners and others.
Why is safety to important?
Industry statistics show that the majority of large-scale losses are due to process
accidents. Today’s operating environment increases the challenge, with complex
systems, new regulations, public intolerance of risk and reduced worker tenure. Global
water, climate and energy changes add more challenges. It’s all part of the growing
need to demonstrate leadership in reducing risks to human health and the environment.
What sets Aecon’s position on safety apart from the norm? And how does this
At Aecon, “Our foremost priority is health and safety and concern for the environment;
our goal is an injury and accident free workplace,” says Aecon Chairman & CEO, John
Beck. “To maintain our position as a leader in our industry, effort and participation at all
levels is imperative to make safety part of all work activities.” (Aecon Health & Safety
and Environmental Manual, 2009) These words are echoed in Aecon’s corporate Health
& Safety and Environment policies and disciplines. They are also part of the company’s
everyday DNA—in the office and in the field – continuously being evaluated and refined
to move closer to ‘Zero’.
Here is a glimpse of a few of those differentiators.
For Aecon, safety begins even before the job
starts, with workplace risk assessment.
Archambault explains, “We do job and pre-job
hazard analysis to determine risks before we
start the work, and we also have our crews do
an analysis of safety prior to doing any work
during the day. It is basically safety from the
bottom up. The employees are engaged to
make a difference if they see anything, and
we talk about their rights to refuse unsafe
work. We are very proactive that way.”
To ensure that we always meet or exceeds legislation in all areas of work, Aecon
engages third-party auditors to confirm that we are more than compliant.
Safety and the Environment
Aecon’s concern for safety goes beyond
individuals, and even beyond the workplace. The
program is called Health, Safety and
Environment for good reason. Construction
involves a lot of equipment and products that are
regulated by The Workplace Hazardous
Materials Information System (WHMIS)—a
national hazard communication standard. Key
elements of this system, which came into effect
on October 31, 1988, are cautionary labeling of
containers of WHMIS controlled products, the
provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
and ongoing worker education and training
programs. (WHMIS website (Canada))
Aecon places an important focus on mitigating
the risk of environmental releases; such as
broken poles spilling hydraulic fluid, or fuel into
the atmosphere. We have implemented a
number of rules on how to control those types of
situations and chemical spills.
“If we have a long-term project, we’ll have a fuel storage area designed with
containment,” says Archambault. “All of our fuel tanks are double lined, so they can’t
leak into the environment. We’ve looked at using vegetable oil versus hydraulic oil to run
pieces of equipment, so a leak wouldn’t be as hazardous. We control water run-off from
the projects. Essentially we want to contain everything, and control any potential release
that may impact the environment.”
To stay ahead of new knowledge and new technology, a continuous improvement
process has been formalized that includes mandatory training for every new supervisor
and employee, followed by an annual refresher course.
“We try to make our training sessions very clear and realistic,” says Archambault. “It’s
important that they’re leaving with the knowledge that we want them to have. We’re the
only company in North America using our training system.”
Safety Day & Awards
Aecon reinforces its safety leadership by
annually rewarding individual employees and
divisions that have performed well. We even
hold an annual Safety Day celebration to
promote safety awareness in all Aecon
“We came up with the idea of Safety Day a
number of years ago,” says Brian Swartz,
Aecon Group, SVP Legal & Commercial
Services. “We wanted to do something that
acknowledges safety as everyone’s
responsibility – to underscore its significance in everything we do and to underscore the
importance that our entire workforce arrives home safe and sound every single day.”
Every Safety Day, held on or near October 8th each year, all Aecon employees stop work
for a few hours to celebrate, meet and greet and to acknowledge the importance of
everyone in fostering a safe workplace. Aecon Chairman and CEO John Beck delivers
his now famous “toolbox talk”. It’s all designed to reach the grassroots — the workers
who deliver the projects.
It’s also a chance to interact with subcontractors and other key stakeholders — including
the clients, who also participate.
Swartz points out that although he’s the senior executive responsible for Safety Day, it’s
Mike Archambault who coordinates it, along with the Corporate Communications & HR
group, headed by Mitch Patten.
Aecon’s Excellence in Safety Awards are presented at the annual Manager’s Meeting to
the division(s) reporting the lowest lost-time injuries. In turn, the division(s) receiving the
award may present individual awards to employees.
Safety as a key social responsibility
“Our commitment to safety is a social responsibility that we all feel good about,” says
Aecon’s safety record is the industry’s best. Its target is zero lost-time injuries, and we
get closer than most. Last year, only 13 construction workers out of 5,000 lost time due
Aecon has made a serious commitment to safety, across the company. “There are
always two paths to choose from,” says President Scott Balfour. “We can take a path
that says ‘its going to be fast, its going to be cheap, but it may not be very safe’. Or we
can take the other path, where it may cost a little more or take a little longer, but it will be
safer. We want everybody to take that second path. We will not compromise safety.”
Daily Safety Incentives
At the end of the day everyone gains by this because they’re going to go home safe.
“That’s our focus,” says Archambault. “To make sure we’re doing it for them, and they’re
doing it for themselves. Everyone has to accountable.”
It makes good sense – and it’s good business too.