Born and raised in Portage la Prairie, Doug Henderson was the son of a railroad man, so he spent a lot of time in various parts of southwestern Manitoba. He attended high school at Elton Collegiate in Forrest, and then moved back to Portage where he’s lived for the last 40 years. He’s done some teaching as a contract instructor with the Brandon Fire College and still does firefighter and paramedic evaluations for the college as well.
Henderson works as a Regional Safety Specialist for FWS Group of Companies out of Winnipeg. But he’s also president of a non-profit Brandon-based group called WASP, the Westman Association of Safety Professionals, which promotes safety and health, and addresses environmental issues in the community and in the workplace. (TIM SMITH)
How would you define a ‘safety professional?’
Well, it could be a position where a person is responsible to understand the legislation, to ensure that the company and their employees are working within the confines of the legislation. But that’s a tough question! How else can I put it? A safety professional is a person who is responsible to ensure that not only a company’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing but also that the employees are doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the ways of legislation, training, understanding their rights and responsibilities as an employee, and also the rights and responsibilities of the employer to ensure that they’re meeting their obligations of what they’re supposed to be doing as a good employer.
I know I’ve had to take some online questionnaires and mini-courses regarding safety. How do those fit in with what you do?
I’d say that’s a good start, because my background is in construction safety. But WASP is for ALL safety professionals — it doesn’t matter what walk of life they come from, whether it’s manufacturing, health-care, farm, oil and gas, or retail, or construction — it doesn’t matter. We all fall under the same guidelines. So what you talked about there — it sounds like you did some online stuff about WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Material Information System)? We take it even one step farther. We ensure that everybody in the organization that I belong to takes the necessary training and has the know-how and shows competency that they understand about what needs to be done before we put them in the field to do that particular job.
The idea of WASP is that it actually brings safety professionals together in a venue where we can talk about common problems, our similarities — we may even have common solutions for common problems. But WASP is a really good venue to sit down, share supper and talk. And we also bring in some very interesting speakers as well.
Is membership in WASP voluntary or …?
There is no membership, actually. It’s a night out — we do have supper. If you wish to participate in supper it’s a $20 fee that basically covers the cost of our supper. So we get an opportunity to sit around and network while we’re having supper, but there’s no membership fee at all — it’s all free of charge. We meet the third Wednesday of every month for eight months — we take December off and the summer months, June, July and August — but for the rest of the season we’ve been meeting at the St. John’s Ambulance meeting room at Shoppers Mall Brandon starting at 5:30 and going to about 8 o’clock at night.
And this is for anybody around the Westman area?
Anybody’s welcome. Anybody. I’m not really from Westman — I actually still live in Portage la Prairie, but the company that I’m associated with, we did a lot of work in the area, and I became a member. I was more curious than anything else. And now they’ve voted me in as president of the association, so I’ve become more involved. And I think it’s a great venue — we don’t have this kind of venue in Winnipeg, for example, or Portage or anything like that where everybody just sits around and talks, or brings in interesting speakers. We’ve had Brian Zerk, the executive director of Workplace Health and Safety, come out and give us talks about what’s up and coming. And again, it gives us that opportunity to ask questions that we may have not had the chance to ask of somebody who’s actually in the know.
You said you work for FWS Group of Companies. What is it you do?
We’re a construction company — we build anything from the Royal Bank on Eighteenth Street to a three-storey condominium over on McTavish. Our forte is the concrete inland terminals — the big concrete terminals that you’ll see — grain terminals — such as just north of Forrest, for example. We’re responsible for building the one at Kemnay.
But you’re on the safety side of things.
I’m on the safety side of things. I look after co-ordinating training for our guys, I do site inspections, I go out to ensure not only that our guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing but our superintendents are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, ensuring that our company is meeting or exceeding all legislative responsibilities as well.
I’m sure it’s likely easy for people to cut corners sometimes on things like that, or have a laissez-faire ‘oh-it’ll-never-happen-to-me attitude.’ So how do you, or does your organization, deal with that? I mean, education is everything, but if you choose to ignore it, you do so at your peril. And the risk is not just to an individual, either — it can be somebody who’s working near that person or a passerby …
Exactly, if they drop something or something falls. It’s bad enough getting injured yourself, but it’s a tragedy if you injure a fellow worker or a bystander.
And then there are often repercussions for the company, because they get censured or something like that.
Absolutely. They’ll get investigated — they’ll bring in an investigation team or whatever the case may be — it depends on the severity of the incident. But as you said, education is key. And we talk about education, re-education, and giving that person who’s doing a good job the pat on the back and reinforcing that.
Our companies are COR (Certificate of Recognition Program) certified, which is an occupational health and safety accreditation, which is a standard where we actually go out and we actually audit our own health and safety program. And again, I’m speaking about myself — I’m not speaking about WASP. But being a COR-certified company, we audit our health and safety manual against the provincial requirements for each of the western provinces. And we’re quite proud that we’ve been successful in all four provinces again in our annual audit this past November, so FWS has been very, very fortunate.
In terms of safety, though, as a company, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, right? People can sometimes cut corners, as I said earlier, or just think ‘it’s not THAT big a deal’ or ‘nobody’s around’ or what have you. Folks have to take it seriously and we know not everybody does. So how do you get people to buy in?
That’s a very good question. We’ve been asking ourselves that for a very long time.
But are there consequences or repercussions if somebody doesn’t obey the rules?
Absolutely. Unfortunately, with any organization or any process, there are repercussions if you don’t follow safety standards. If you’re putting yourself in danger or if you’re putting a fellow worker in danger, there’s the three-strike rule. The verbal, written, and then there could be possible dismissal. We prefer not to go that route — we much prefer to educate, train, get people to understand. If there’s an incident or a near-miss, where the potential could have been great that somebody could have gotten injured or there could have been property damage, we take that opportunity and investigate it and then share our results with our people to help them understand what could have happened if there was a really serious incident.
You don’t have to belong to WASP to come to a meeting. So anybody from any walk of life who’s interested in safety stuff can just come along?
Absolutely! If you’re interested in becoming a safety professional or want to see what it’s like, absolutely anybody can come and participate in the meeting. As I said, it’s free. Or if you want to come out for supper, it’s $20.
It’s one of those open forums — if you come in and you’ve got a question, don’t be afraid to ask. The nice part about it is there are lots of people there with lots of experience who can help, guide, steer, direct. It also gives you an opportunity to network, and that’s what it’s all about nowadays. And you don’t have to be a professional. You can be somebody who’s interested in the field or you want to get into the field or just have an interest in safety. The door is always open — for sure.
For more information about WASP, call 204-728-3456 and ask for Trish. To contact Henderson, email email@example.com
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 28, 2013