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Nestled in the meadows surrounding the base of North Mountain in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, the Annapolis County Municipal Housing Corporation (ACMHC) is an idyllic scene of tranquility and respite. But don’t let the rustic setting fool you – while Mountain Lea Lodge and the Meadows ARC certainly evoke feelings of simplicity and lightheartedness, the organization is at the forefront of progressive workplace safety strategies that are changing the way residential care is provided.
Between employees, residents, and their families, the ACMHC’s work has a hand in many aspects of the Bridgetown community – and while the wellbeing of residents is the central pillar of the organization’s mandate, CEO Joyce d’Entremont says safety is a two way street that must extend to both residents and staff.
“We care about our staff and would never want to see harm come to them from something that could have been avoided,” Joyce says. “This is a priority and like they say, we ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’.”
This walk started two years ago when Julie Hannam, Director of Supports Services, was appointed to the role of Safety Officer and Joyce was appointed CEO.
“We had concerns over the increase in workplace injuries,” Joyce explains. “We started with a gap analysis and education for our safety officer and leadership.”
As their knowledge base grew, Joyce says she and Julie became more aware of issues that could no longer be ignored. In order to establish and enforce better policies, they called Art Brown, a workplace consultant with the WCB Nova Scotia.
“Art never makes you feel daunted or overwhelmed,” Joyce says. “He has a clear vision of the work that has to be completed and has many resources which have been such a benefit to us.”
Making safety a priority, Joyce signed on to the Nova Scotia CEO Safety Charter in February 2016. At the same time, Julie worked collaboratively with Art Brown to develop a safety program to address hazards in the workplace.
Previously, the lack of formal safety training and techniques meant staff injuries were common, costing the organization time and efficiency. Today, a focus on safety has changed the ACMHC day-to-day operations.
“Each day, myself along with some of my leadership team walk about to talk with staff and residents around safety and care issues,” Joyce says. “Staff know we’re coming at this time and often they bring things to our attention, preventing bigger issues in the long run.”
These issues can range from implementing lighting systems and fixing potholes to providing training and enforcing proper use of staff equipment. Importantly, they all directly impact the wellbeing of residents and staff alike.
“Everyone has seen the benefit,” Joyce emphasizes, “including residents and their families.”
In addition to working with WCB, Joyce and Julie receive support from the Office of the Fire Marshall to improve fire safety procedures. Together, they helped update the Fire and Emergency plans which consisted of the installation of a second stage fire alarm panel at the Meadows ARC.
Alongside these updates, supervisors now take a proactive approach to safety by completing monthly workplace inspections in each department, while employees partake in ongoing safety training programs like Fire and Life, WHIMS/GHS, and other programs through AWARE-NS.
“We didn’t have any written policies and procedures to follow,” says Scott Miller, who works in the laundry department at Mountain Lea Lodge. “Now that we have these, we can do our work safer.”
A large focus for employees is safe lifting. To diminish risks for both employees and residents, the ACMHC has developed a Safe Lift and Transfer Policy that is audited regularly to ensure compliance.
“Joyce gives me the time to do the training and education I need to be able to share my knowledge with the JOHS Committee, leadership, and staff,” says Julie.
As for what’s next, both Julie and Joyce look forward to implementing Universal Codes and Return-to-Work Programs for injured workers. Funding will also go to purchasing more equipment – Joyce emphasizes lifts specifically – and more educational training so staff not only have the knowledge, but the means to get work done.
“We have been consistent in our messaging to staff that they are allowed to take the time it takes to do their job safely,” Joyce emphasizes. “We have actually made this an expectation.”
Joyce d'Entremont, CEO and Administrator of Mountain Lea Lodge, The Meadows ARC, and Willowvale Supervised Apartments.
Julie Hannam, the organization’s Safety Officer, leads safety education with the Board of Directors.
The JOHS Committee has representation from all unions and departments within ACMHC. In 2016, the Committee completed the ACMHC Safety Plan, developed Safe Work Procedures, Hazard Management Plan, and coordinated safety training for staff.