We Are All Safety Ambassadors: Innovation and Inclusivity Drive Safety Excellence at Soprema

New worker safety is top of mind at the Soprema plant in Chilliwack. The company is preparing to open a new facility in Woodstock, Ontario, and although the company operates several closer plants, they opted to fly the entire staff of the new Woodstock location to BC—a few at a time—to train alongside Plant Manager Dan Pretty’s Chilliwack team.

We Are All Safety Ambassadors
The Chilliwack plant stands out in part for its innovative approach to safety, and the way it involves the whole team. As you walk from the front office to the production area, you pass a wall of plaques—one for each person in the organization—representing each one as a Safety Ambassador. Soprema introduced the Safety Ambassador program by creating a small team of workers in each location to encourage safety and wellness at work.

It’s a binding contract. I am responsible for safety. Not only mine, but yours as well.

They recognize each team member with a plaque and a hockey-style jersey that identifies them as a Safety Ambassador. Pretty and his team looked at the program, and said, “In this plant, we are all Safety Ambassadors.” Everyone gets a plaque, and they wear their Safety Ambassador jerseys proudly on the production floor. “It’s a binding contract,” Pretty said. Staff sign their commitment: “I am responsible for safety. Not only mine, but yours as well.” That shift in mindset has taken time, Pretty said. “It was a big rock we had to roll up a hill, but now it rolls on its own.”

A Health & Safety Kaizen Blitz
Workplace safety is a priority in Soprema’s commitment to sustainability. Each of Soprema’s 63 plant managers worldwide is evaluated on the quality of their health and safety systems. Pretty notes that in Europe, the company is piloting a health and safety points system, “like your driving record,” to increase accountability for health and safety among plant leaders.

At the same time, productivity training is always ongoing. “This facility is high performing,” Pretty said, “but we’re in a never-ending pursuit to do better.”

Late last year, Dan and his team decided to look at how they could apply a Kaizen blitz approach to their health and safety program this year. “We want to be world class,” he said. The team identified four key opportunities to improve health and safety in the plant, and gave themselves until the end of March 2019 to complete the work.

First, they created a tablet-based tool to ensure consistent workplace inspections and documentation. Next, recognizing the added risk to staff doing new tasks, they created a hazard assessment workbook for non-routine tasks. This is important, Pretty said, “to help people take precautions, but also to turn that mental switch so people will start to evaluate risks subconsciously.”

Finally, they put together a plan to increase communications with workers about health and safety best practices and achievements. With this sizable project completed inside of three months, the team is planning a communications meeting and a big party at the end of April to celebrate their achievements.

A Personal Take on Safety Excellence
Plant Manager Dan Pretty shares his personal motivation for the pursuit of safety excellence at Soprema: “The motivator for me is that I never, ever want to make that call to have to say, ‘I didn’t do enough to see that you were safe today.’ If I break somebody, not only can I not replace them, but I think of the personal side of it. I know most of the people’s wives, some of their kids. I would never want to have to make that call.” “My son worked here. I tell my people, ‘The best way I can put you in the right frame of mind to protect health and safety is to pretend that your son or daughter works here. If I’m going to leave my kid working here, I’m going to make sure it’s safe.’”

When my son moved on, I told him, ‘I’m really glad you worked here because now you know what health and safety is, and what it has to be. Now you won’t compromise. Everywhere you go, this is your point of reference.’