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Changing safety culture at the heart of COR certification

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by Angela Gismondi

Ben Ruggeiri, general manager of TACC Construction, said a fatality in the company 18 years ago prompted it to focus heavily on effective safety measures.
Industry leaders and health and safety professionals discussed the challenges and benefits of the COR certification process at a COR leadership roundtable held as part of the OGCA’s Leadership Conference Feb. 27 in Mississauga, Ont.
Industry leaders and health and safety professionals discussed the challenges and benefits of the COR certification process at a COR leadership roundtable held as part of the OGCA’s Leadership Conference Feb. 27 in Mississauga, Ont. - Photo: ANGELA GISMONDI

TACC started its Certificate of Recognition (COR) journey over three years ago when the program was first introduced in Ontario. They were one of the only sewer and watermain contractors who attended the orientation session, he said.

"We felt very isolated and a little bit afraid or scared about what we were getting into and as we moved forward it wasn't an easy ride," said Ruggeiri. "We knew it was the right thing to do both from a work perspective and also for the betterment of our company overall. We committed to it, we had full commitment from our ownership to move forward, ran into a lot of hurdles but the end goal was always there."

Ruggeiri was one of several industry leaders and health and safety professionals who shared their experiences working through the COR safety certification process, as well as tips on building a culture of safety during a recent COR leadership roundtable discussion.

"This is an incredible challenge, implementing effective safety systems. Programs such as COR are time consuming, expensive and require changes to how you operate your business," added David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), who organized the COR Open House and Leadership Conference in partnership with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) and sponsor eCompliance.

The event, held Feb. 27 at the Centre for Health and Safety Innovation in Mississauga, Ont., featured the COR leadership roundtable chaired by Craig Lesurf, vice-president and business leader for Walsh Canada and chair of the OGCA's safety committee.

“Anything learned in a safety culture has to be shared within the industry,”

Steve Benson
Benson Steel

COR is a health and safety audit tool that's part of a comprehensive program. In Ontario, certification is granted by the IHSA, which perscribes high standards of health and safety management systems through a structured audit process.

Steve Benson, president and CEO of Benson Steel, hopes to be COR certified by the end of the year.

"We've always had a health and safety mantra but it's getting the whole team from the executive down to your boots on the ground people to buy in," said Benson.

One of the biggest challenges for companies looking to attain COR certification, according to Jerry Muzzerall, health and safety manager at TACC, is meeting the standards of job hazard assessments.

"First we had to admit that we weren't doing it right," he noted. "Everybody has a way of doing things and we rationalize that's good enough and the reality is that COR is significantly higher than the Green Book."

While Benson Steel had hazard assessments in place, they weren't thorough enough, explained Mike Barron, the company's health and safety manager. Staff asked the employees directly how they could improve the process.

"It made not only our program better but it also made all of our workers more engaged, like they're part of the team and they're not just an employee," said Barron.

Ruggeiri said a large part of the mandate has to do with putting your ego aside and recognizing there is always room for improvement.

"We always thought and assumed our program was tip-top and above and beyond the standards, but what COR showed us, what it exposed us to, was all the flaws that we had," he said. "It wasn't until our second year and through having some failures that we could actually appreciate what it was trying to make us do."

Benson said it is important to share safety knowledge.

"We can't take safety and make that proprietary," he noted. "Anything learned in a safety culture has to be shared within the industry."
Frank Perricone, president and CEO of Percon Construction and OGCA chairman, said COR is about effective leadership.

"We found in the last three years that our projects are running smoother, our bottom line is getting better," said Perricone. "I can tell you from the financial end, it does pay off but I always tell people we shouldn't look at it that way. This is really about getting people that are under your control on your sites and in your shops home safely and there's no value you can put to that.

"The one thing you take out of today is there's a lot of people the industry as a whole is willing to help because the better we are individually, the better the industry collectively is."

Maren Gamble, health and safety manager at Percon, offered advice for those working through the process.

"It's not something you set out to achieve and put on the wall or on the shelf and be done with it," said Gamble. "You start looking ahead to wanting to achieve COR by deciding to change your company, by deciding to change the culture and by deciding to change it in ways that you might not even realize are the ways you need to change it...it's a forever change."

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