Have Your Say…The future OHS labour needs of BC’s Manufacturers

by Glayds Johnsen – The demand for occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals in BC’s manufacturing industry has never been higher. Technological, demographic and corporate culture shifts in the past decade have created a need for OHS professionals who are excellent communicators and can incorporate safety management into every step of a company’s growth.

The future OHS needs of the manufacturing industry are being analyzed and training gaps identified by the Sector Labour Market Partnership (Sector LMP). Led by the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC (the Alliance) and supported by partners, the Sector LMP is funded through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement; its purpose is to achieve a clear consensus and direction on the number and skill levels needed of OHS professionals within the industry over the next five years. A final report will be published by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and the Alliance.

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In BC, the nature of the manufacturing industry and the demographics of its workers is changing and diversifying. The sector has a relatively high injury rate compared to the BC average and has sector-specific issues that could pose significant future OHS risks. Rising public and supply chain expectations for improved workplace safety, as well as increased oversight and regulation means that employers may need to recruit, retain and develop OHS skills and expertise relevant to the sector in order to maintain a safe and healthy future workforce.

According to Scott Bax, Senior Vice President Operations with Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., an OHS person with the right combination of theoretical and practical skills is difficult to find.

There’s a gap between what I and the entire manufacturing industry needs and who is available. An OHS professional is no longer just a shop floor cop enforcing health and safety regulations; that person must also be the catalyst for a cultural change throughout an organization. Being part of the Steering Committee allows me to influence how that gap can be closed.
– Scott Bax

Beginning in February 2016, the Alliance began engaging with partners to learn their specific OHS needs. Phase 1 brought together stakeholders including manufacturing and food processing employers, industry associations and educational institutions that represent regions and sectors across the province. The feedback was compiled and there was consensus was achieved by the Steering Committee members on several labour market issues and OHS themes that need to be addressed including:

  • Existing shortage of OHS professionals where the gap is expected to continue to widen
  • Current training and development program(s) limitations to produce enough OHS graduates with industry and occupation relevant skills
  • Identification of those unique / ideal skill sets
  • Pre-qualifications and contractor management and the demands placed on employers regarding their OHS programs

Now, each of these areas need to be explored in depth. To do this the Steering Committee is working with an independent consulting company, The Graham Lowe Group, to conduct research, to complete both an on-line survey and telephone interviews and to conduct five regional focus groups.

Lisa McGuire, CEO of the Alliance, believes that: Those who participate in this research have an opportunity to show leadership and have real influence on the future of their profession. Working OHS professionals can tell us what they need to increase their ability to develop and implement programs at all company levels, companies can identify where they see education gaps and training institutions can indicate how they can make their programs more relevant.

BC manufacturers will have multiple opportunities to participate. The Alliance has been reaching out to manufacturers’ contacts that either manage or are responsible for their company’s OHS or those contacts who can speak on behalf of their company about its OHS policies, practices and needs. These contacts will be invited to share their opinions anecdotally, by completing the survey when it is posted or by registering for a focus group.

According to Daneen Skilling, Sector LMP Steering Committee Chair, and National Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Andrew Peller Ltd: Health and safety in manufacturing in BC is critical to our continued growth. To meet the needs of our diverse industry we need good, fact based evidence of those issues to move BC’s companies forward. This project will provide a real basis for future improvement.

Future OHS professionals will need to be change agents and promote the integration of their programs and policies at all levels of a company – from the shop floor to the board room. They will need to be able to apply and use modern communication and technical advances with both traditional and totally new manufacturing procedures while meeting corporate business needs.

“A well trained OHS professional is no longer someone who is only able to cite relevant WorkSafeBC regulations,” says Daneen. “That person must now be an active change agent who promotes a safety culture, understands the diversity of the workforce and can read a company budget. It’s an exciting time to be in this field.”

Data collection for the Sector LMP will start in January of 2017 with the posting of the survey followed by regional focus group sessions and phone interviews. The information shared will be kept confidential and used to identify and compile common issues.

The Sector LMP is a project that can have a positive long term impact on BC’s manufacturing sector by identifying its issues with the OHS labour market. This research phase is an opportunity for manufacturers, representing different company sizes, regions and demographics, to have their say and make a difference.

To find out more about the Manufacturing Sector LMP, please call the Alliance office at 1.604.795.9595 or send an email to research@safetyalliancebc.ca.