A Culture of Safety

May 18, 2016

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

Long before Kirby Yakemchuk, P.E., CEM, joined the Ledcor Equipment Group in Western Canada, the organization had firmly established its culture of safety. That culture extends from the top management level through the chain of command and into the company’s multiple divisions, such as commercial construction, mine reclamation, pipeline construction, and industrial construction for major oil companies and others across North America and Hawaii. Ledcor also has a couple of airline and marine operations thrown into the mix.

Yakemchuk is Director of Business Operations for Ledcor, which includes approximately 2,500 licensed vehicles and 2,000 pieces of heavy equipment. “We own the assets and supply them out to all the different Ledcor groups,” he says. “We slice across all of them.”

Although Ledcor touches many industries, the organization is “not dissimilar to anyone else in construction,” Yakemchuk says. “We have many discussions of safety. We have our Tool Box meetings in the morning. We keep safety at the forefront. We take personal ownership of safety and never being afraid to intervene, refuse work, or walk past an unsafe act,” he says. “It really is all about living and breathing safety and taking care of yourself. The workers embrace that.”

At the start of the day, Yakemchuk says, everyone gathers to discuss the day’s activities and the safety around those activities. Prior to starting any kind of task, “we do a real-hazard assessment, looking at the job in depth. It is a cold-eye look at the conditions, the different sources of energy, and anything that goes into doing the task—such as the tooling—and trying to make sure we account for every possible scenario.”

But once in awhile, particularly in the dangerous environment of a construction site, there are surprises you never dreamed possible, Yakemchuk says. Among the almost-unheard of incidents he has encountered involved air horn canisters. (Ledcor was not involved in any of these incidents, Yakemchuk says).

“You don’t really think too much about air horns. They are designed to provide warning blasts for various operations,” he says. “But in the first five months of 2015, there were two industry-documented cases of aerosol containers exploding inside of pickup trucks. Another contractor also reported a similar incident.”

In one case, the horn canister was placed on the dashboard of a pickup parked in sunlight on a spring day. The heat inside the cab caused gases inside the canister to exert excessive internal pressure beyond its manufacturer’s rated capacity, and it blew up.

“Luckily, no one was injured in any of the events,” Yakemchuk says. “It may be a low-frequency incident, but the danger potential is there. If a person is driving and one of those things goes off, he is at significant risk.”

This information was shared via Ledcor’s Executive Safety Committee, which brought the awareness to the senior management of all the Ledcor divisions.

Yakemchuk, who chairs AEMP’s Safety Committee, says that during the Asset Management Symposium last year, the focus was on writing a Job Hazard Assessment (JHA). “It’s really taking ownership of the process, not just pencil-whipping a form together,” he says. “It is understanding that the procedure is there to help you make the job safer, not just something that gets in the way.”

Inside Ledcor, the goal is to always shoot for a zero incident rating, he says. “I’ve seen other organizations kind of just brush it off. With that attitude, you never will get there.”

For Ledcor, safety became an all-too-important reality when its founder was killed in a job-site accident in 1980. Safety reached an entirely different level in the company when, during its expansion into the oil industry, Ledcor’s clients—Shell, Exxon, Imperial Oil—became more complex.

“Their standards and understanding of safety performance is significantly different from what a small Western Canadian company might assume,” Yakemchuk says. “That really, really drove our senior management to understand that the results out there are achievable, once you know what your end-goal should be. It’s all about putting time and place together to get there.”

The larger, major oil companies, “helped mentor us along and helped us understand the way to get there. Our senior management seized that opportunity,” Yakemchuk says.

The company has an internal system for incident reporting that requires it to report to different areas of the organization, depending on the severity of the incident.

“Obviously, what you want to do first and foremost is to focus on the injured person to make sure if any first aid is required,” Yakemchuk says. “That’s the first priority. Again, depending on what the severity level is, you freeze the scene, call in your subject matter experts, your personnel and supervisors to really understand all the circumstances and contributing factors. You go in, care for any type of injury, stabilize the scene, and then it becomes a fact-gathering situation.

“In some of the more severe cases, Ledcor personnel do [additional] fact gathering, such as conducting a latent causes analysis. It is taking a good look in the mirror to see what the contributing factors were.”

After that, he says, multiple levels of management in the organization are brought in to hopefully learn from the situation.

“We have a standard set of capture points that we use for any incident,” Yakemchuk says, “No matter how small. We track our incident rate to see how we are performing.”

In fact, the safety habits and culture of a company reflect the incident ratings, he says.

“It really is a measurement of your safety program, and that includes all your policies, culture and management commitment to safety. It allows you to see, when it comes to safety, where the company is.”

Serving as chairman of the Safety Committee has also benefited his day-to-day management at Ledcor.

“It’s an opportunity to engage a number of safety issues, not just equipment,” he says. “It has turned into so much more in that just the conversation in the room—and this is where I get the best benefit—helps you take the blinders off. As much as you want to pull back and do a job hazard assessment, everyone has blind spots and some things you might not even consider.”

Having peers in the room really broadens the discussion level. The activities that are done across organizations vary, Yakemchuk says.

“What you do with AEMP is open up the discussion of safety issues with equipment, but [also] other levels of safety that you get from just being at an AEMP event.”

Even at the executive level, “you began to understand where those blind spots are,” he says. From time to time, Yakemchuk will canvas the group “with a quick hit of lessons learned that I can share with our senior management.”

In the long run, Yakemchuk says, all of this helps to understand where the gaps are. “Historically, you learn those gaps by experience, but people in the early learning curve hopefully will not have to experience them.”

That adds value to the industry as a whole by putting people ahead of everything else, he says.

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