OHS from the Full-time OHS Representative’s Perspective

by Gladys Johnsen – Manufacturing the bottles on-site, Nestlé Waters distributes bottled water throughout Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Since opening at its Hope location close to 20 years ago, Nestlé has experienced issues with musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) and minor incidents among its workforce of 100. Its health and safety program was originally managed by the HR Department.

According to Supply Chain Manager Kevin Thorburn, this approach resulted in “a hybrid that saw health and safety as a documentation process managing claims, rather than preventing incidents from occurring. The trend wasn’t good,”

“The increasing number of injuries was a real concern. We needed a focus on prevention, which meant creating a full-time health and safety position.” explains Kevin.

In 2010 Nestlé separated health and safety from the Human Resources Department by creating a Safety Health and Environment Resource (SHE) position, with a focus on incident prevention.

Hailing from a background in the QA department with moderate knowledge of health and safety issues, Shane Veenstra became that resource. His first action was a compliance review to identify discrepancies between WorkSafeBC regulations and Nestlé standards and to generate suitable action plans to redress deficiencies. Shane worked full-time while receiving financial support from Nestlé’s Educational Reimbursement Program to enroll in BCIT’s Occupational Health and Safety Certificate Program.

“It was a busy two years, with an intense learning curve”, says Shane, “but, when I look back at where we were and where we are now, it was worth the effort.”

With the company’s ongoing support, Shane also achieved the Canadian Registered Safety Professional designation. A full-time OHS role supported by an education plan has translated into deeper knowledge of specific health & safety issues and their solutions.

“The perception that health and safety was not top of mind for management changed when it was taken out of Human Resources,” said Shane. “ It’s a large financial and cultural commitment for a company to make; but it says to the workforce that their security is fundamental to the business’s success. When the health and safety function is shared there cannot be the same level of focus or depth of knowledge.”

Over time, Shane noticed changes in the way OHS was perceived. Workers no longer worried about their employment files when they discussed or reported risky actions. Moreover, an OHS seat at the management table made safety equal to other departments, granting input to factory decisions and direct program advocacy. Now every meeting – whether it be in the Boardroom, at a shift change, or monthly plant meetings – begins with a safety update called “Take Two for Safety”.

Being a stand-alone resource also requires that Shane’s peers understand his boundaries. While being the “go to guy”, Shane’s principal role remains that of a resource to assist front-line managers directly responsible for worker safety. Incidents are not handed off to Shane but rather, Managers receive support to get to the root cause and mount an action plan to prevent re-occurrence.

“The goal is that I will spend 70% of my time on the floor and 30% on administration” explains Shane.

By creating this resource position Nestlé has used a holistic approach to meeting its responsibilities rather than creating a health and safety silo.


Permit to Work (PTW) Station
High Risk Task Hazard Sheets & Authorized Permit Holders on staff qualified to oversee or perform those tasks.

Having a full-time professional OHS resource at Nestlé has led to innovative approaches on the shop floor.

The highest risk tasks at Nestlé are working at height, medium voltage electrical work and Mode 4 machinery interventions where guarding is removed while the machine remains energized. It is standard policy that any high hazard task only be performed if all other methods of completing the work have been considered – even if the solution requires more effort. High Risk Tasks require a work Permit – the task to be performed by qualified Permit Holders on staff.

Safety Mapping
Visual reference of potential safety hazard locations and corrective actions to be taken

Safety Maps of each assembly or process line are used by staff to identify safety risks requiring attention. Adhesive-backed hazard icons are applied to the clear film overlay to identify the hazard and describe the hazard area. Identified hazards are tagged by staff with suggestions on possible corrective actions.

SBO System allows staff to log
• Safe Behaviours “KUDOS”
• Unsafe Conditions
• Unsafe Acts/Behaviours
• Anonymous Reports

The major tool used to determine safety priorities is the Registry of Safety Hazards. This database is used in concert with a Safety Based Observation (SBO) system that allows workers to record health and safety observations, featuring over 2000 observations year-to-date. All risks are then tabulated, with the likelihood, frequency of exposure and real or potential outcomes of the activity calculated. This identifies what remedies or actions are required.