What I Think: Workplace safety matters to more than just employees

It has been years since my accident, yet I still flinch when I pass a transport trailer on the highway. They are bigger, heavier and more powerful than all the other vehicles on the road. With old memories still fresh in my head, the heavy trailers give me pause when I drive amongst them.

Fortunately, I’m still here to write this. But you don’t have to have experienced an accident firsthand to know what they can lead to — unfortunately, fatal road accidents are all too common in the news, whether they break the hearts of a family or a whole nation. Such was the case in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, where 16 people were killed and 13 injured when a Calgary-based trucking company’s semi-trailer collided with a bus carrying the Broncos hockey team in April 2018. Many victims were in their late teens and early 20s.

The accident was tragic, and so relief was palpable across the nation when the young driver of the semi pleaded guilty, not wanting to cause further pain or injury to the families and communities involved. I am not alone in praising the young man for taking responsibility.

Still, I wish he had had more training, more experience driving a large vehicle on the road. I am bothered by the lack of safety regulations for companies which operate vehicles that are so powerful and can do so much damage, yet which conduct their business with a minuscule amount of training. Is getting an AZ driver’s licence enough for a vehicle of that power?

In 2017, Ontario became the first province to make truck-driving training mandatory. Drivers must undergo a minimum of 103 hours — roughly three weeks — of training. In the rest of Canada, training remains optional, although governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are planning to make it mandatory.

In southern Ontario, as I witness the bumper-to-bumper traffic as city workers flee to enjoy time away from the daily grind, I wonder why transport drivers are permitted to drive during prime exodus time on weekends. In these irritating traffic conditions, tangling with a truck is even more dangerous. So why don’t we mitigate that risk and take them off the road? It will ease the traffic situation and cause safer conditions for people in smaller vehicles.

Workplaces are implementing remote and flexible work conditions, alleviating the stress on commuting workers while accommodating their lifestyles, thus supporting higher productivity at work. Transport companies could do likewise, accommodating the general public that travel on weekends by taking transports off the highway during those times to reduce dangers for public and employees alike.

Not only does the Humboldt tragedy raise questions about safe road conditions, transport safety regulations and driver training on a larger scale — it also shines a bright light on the responsibility of the employer to ensure worker and public safety.

The driver was sentenced to eight years in prison; in contrast, his employer was convicted on noncriminal violations with fines capped at $5,000. Given that the driver received little training from the employer, was a new driver on his first solo run and was also a newcomer to Canada, the role and responsibility of the employer should have been highlighted much more blatantly as part of this tragedy.

It’s perhaps obvious to say, but it is incumbent on each employer to ensure their staff are well trained. Not so obvious, however, are the preconceived ideas workers have coming into a job and how they translate into work culture, safety and rule following. As employers, we must ensure that assumptions are not made. And this is really hard to do.

The journey starts with reviewing your training and orientation programs, adding more definitions where you might be making assumptions. Don’t rely on common sense. At least have the conversation to ensure that everyone is on the same page. And err on the side of safety for your people – for all people. It may be the difference between life and death, or, for someone like me, two years of permanent disability.

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