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June 2017

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Prioritizing Safety in New Brunswick

When Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith learned NB Power had won Canada's Best Health and Safety Culture award for 2016, he was happy for their achievement, but not especially surprised.

Over his career, Galbraith, who is also a member of the International Executive Council, has worked diligently with the Local 37 membership and leadership to make safety the local's top priority. That work has been reinforced by New Brunswick Power, the local utility that employs roughly 90 percent of Local 37's members.

"There are a lot of things that go into being a good union member and a good employee, but nothing is more important than working safely so you can come home to your family at the end of a long day," Galbraith said.

The award is the top prize in the Canada's Safest Employers competition. It's unique in that it's partly chosen based on results of employee surveys that measure how deeply the concepts of health and safety have permeated the culture of the workplace.

"For our members at NB Power to have earned this prize is recognition of the pride they take in their work and the commitment they have to their own safety and to the well-being of their union brothers and sisters," Galbraith said.

Duff Boyd, NB Power's director of health and safety, told Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine, "Of course job competence is important, but how you get the work done, for us, is far more important than how fast you get it done."

Company executives cited their partnership with the IBEW as a major factor in creating the safety culture that led to the award, principles outlined in a document called the NB Power/IBEW Shared Commitment to Safety.

The commitment, which codifies the employer-employee consensus on six key elements of the safety culture, grew out of a Canada-wide effort from utility locals to share information about workplace accidents and to strategize about how to prevent them altogether.

Local 37 President Steve Hayes, who co-chairs the meetings, said the idea came after an All-Canada Progress Meeting four years ago, when an accident was reported but no one asked about the details.

"A few of us thought we needed a place to just focus on safety — no contract talks, no politics, just safety," Hayes said. The group called itself CUSP, the Canada Utility Safety Program, and in June the group of 30-35 representatives from utility locals will hold its 10th meeting in Alberta.

"It's a place where utility locals can get ideas from one another and share information about what's working and what's not working."

The NB Power/IBEW Shared Commitment to Safety, Hayes said, grew out of an idea that was shared at a CUSP meeting by representatives from Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 258, who had developed a similar document with BC Hydro a few years earlier.

"We liked the idea, and we took it to NB Power, and they liked it too," Hayes said, "and it's paid off in this award."

The document's six key points, which IBEW members and NB Power managers adhere to are:

  • Follow the Rules
  • Plan Safety into Our Work
  • Say No to Unsafe Work
  • Report So We Can All Get Better
  • Be a Leader in Safety
  • Have Courage (to speak up)

Having it in writing helps to ensure there's a full commitment from both sides, said Galbraith, who also undertook an effort last summer to do the same for the IBEW's Code of Excellence.

"We wanted to find out what excellence meant to our members," Galbraith said, "and we wanted to make sure that they were the ones leading the charge when it came to the Code of Excellence and how they could apply that to their jobs."

About 80 members participated in a series of focus groups about what the five elements of the Code meant to them. Those foundations — safety, professionalism, accountability, relationships and quality — are captured in the acronym SPARQ, which is part of a union-wide effort to make the ideas behind the Code more relevant to everyday workplace situations.

"We asked these groups, 'What makes you proud to be an IBEW member?' and they came up with the descriptors for each of the Code's five elements," Galbraith said. Those descriptors were printed on cards and posters, which were distributed to each of Local 37's more than 2,000 members.

The first bullet point for 'Safety,' states, "We make safety our No. 1 priority."

"This award for our members at NB Power shows they're living up to that commitment," Galbraith said. "We're proud of that, and we're going to keep working to do even better."


Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, left, and President Steve Hayes right, sign commitment to safety with NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas.