Mediaplanet: Can you briefly tell the story of what led to your commitment in promoting workplace health and safety?

Trish Penny: In 2010 my brother was involved in a workplace incident which ultimately took his life. He was performing weather proofing on a detached garage when the wall caved in, collapsing on top of him.

MP: Prior to your brother’s accident in 2010 how often did you think about workplace safety? Did you realize the significance it has for so many Canadians?

We need to be teaching one concept: how to do our job, safely. By building safety initiatives into operations we are reinforcing the foundation that working safe is the only way to perform one’s job. 

TP: Luke’s death was my wake up call. The saying “you never think it’s going to happen to you” comes to mind. Only I would take it one step further. The thought wasn’t even on my — or probably most people’s — radars until it became a reality. Before losing Luke, I, like many, went through the mandatory safety training at new jobs because it was part of getting hired. It wasn’t until losing him because of a workplace accident, I realized the merit in those videos and orientations.
After an incident like Luke’s occurs, the immediate feeling is isolation — no one could possibly understand what just happened to you. Becoming a part of Threads of Life was the catalyst that lead to understanding the significance of workplace safety. My family and I were now part of a group of people who have all been affected in some way by workplace loss. That’s when it hit us — this group has way too many members.

MP: Why do safety and health concerns so consistently take a backseat to other day-to-day operations on worksite?

TP: I think the easy answer would be time and money. We live in a world with tight timelines, on even tighter budgets. However, I also believe health and safety concerns can sometimes take a backseat to operations due to deficiencies in communication and understanding. In most cases, people are receptive to hearing about how to do their job. But, their attention gets lost when we migrate to the safety components. We need to be teaching one concept: how to do our job, safely. By building safety initiatives into operations we are reinforcing the foundation that working safe is the only way to perform one’s job. 

MP: Can you explain the personal and educational process that led you to your current career as a health and safety specialist?

TP: As we were going through the legal proceedings, I started taking an online health and safety course on legislation through Seneca College. I wasn’t sure if I was heading down the path of turning it into a career at that point. I just really wanted to understand what happened — what went wrong and will anything be done to ensure it doesn’t happen to someone else? When I finished my first class, I enrolled into my next two courses without questioning it. Any chance I had at taking a course in health and safety — I took it.

MP: How have you seen workplace health and safety develop over the past few years? What have been the most important steps taken by regulatory bodies to establish safer environments?

TP: One of the biggest changes I have seen is the responsibility shift. Supervisors are becoming more accountable for their employees. Likewise, employees are being held responsible for their own health and safety while at work.

Another big change from the regulatory bodies is having the training requirements be reviewed and approved by the chief prevention officer of the Ministry of Labour. This requirement ensures training providers are producing accurate content with enough information to certify all workers are trained to the highest standards. Knowledge is one of the biggest components of ensuring a safe workplace.

MP: What can be quickly and easily done by companies to take the initiative in making safety and wellness a priority?

TP: Culture shifts are never quick and easy. But, the first steps in creating change would be to talk about it. Have safety moments in your meetings, and have the employees and management engage at all levels.

While the week long safety blitzes are a great way to raise awareness — they can become redundant and almost dreaded. If we can get to a place in which we speak about health and safety as naturally as we speak about operations, we are well on our way to making safety and wellness a priority in our work.

MP: What would be the single biggest regulatory change you would make to improve workplace health and safety?

TP: One thing I would like to see enforced is appropriate consequences for actions of those not engaged in safe work practices, and ensuring we are holding the correct person accountable. Workers, supervisors, and employers all have responsibilities under the law. When all parties work together to fulfil those responsibilities — we all go home safe.