Running a company without a workplace health and safety program is akin to "driving a car with bald tires and no insurance ," observes BDC Consulting Partner David Raymond.
"There's so much at stake," he says. "You need to have a reliable system in place to protect your employees and prevent accidents and injuries. Plus, the penalties for companies that don't comply with government legislation can be as severe as imprisonment. Those are good reasons to get a rigorous plan in place."
Get external help
Consultants can help entrepreneurs develop and implement customized workplace health and safety programs that focus on proactive prevention and prepare companies for possible audits. Working with an outside consultant also gives you an "objective point of view, which is invaluable when it comes to an audit," notes Raymond. "It's hard to grade yourself objectively."
Tailor your program
Entrepreneurs can look up government guidelines and requirements on their own, of course. But working with an external consultant allows you to put a program in place that is tailored to your business. A company with both an office and plant setting, for example, might need a plan that answers the needs of administrative employees and front-line production people.
Outsource and save time
Unless you already have expertise in workplace health and safety, you can also benefit from the extra help that a consultant can provide in wading through paperwork, Raymond says. "A lot of business owners may not be able to invest the time and resources in order to give this issue the attention it needs. By working with a consultant, you have a fast-track solution without hiring a full-time resource."
Assess hazards and gaps
What can entrepreneurs expect if they use external help? "We first help companies do a careful assessment of possible hazards and gaps that they may need to fill. It's a very thorough process where we give our clients a specific score on how they perform with workplace health and safety," Raymond explains.
Typically, a consultant will look at whether you have policies in writing and have made people accountable for record-keeping and accident investigations. "Documentation and accountability are paramount. We help businesses make sure that they can show due diligence and bear the scrutiny of an audit," he says.
Devise an action plan
Once the assessment is complete, the next step is putting hazard-prevention measures in place to reduce risk for the company and its employees. "You can be vulnerable to charges especially if you have documented knowledge of hazards but no clear action plan in place," Raymond notes. "We'll take the time, if needed, to help companies write these procedures. This can save a lot of time and resources for our clients, who may have other priorities."
Entrepreneurs should put employee training at the top of their agendas. Having employees who are inadequately trained to use their equipment or to work in a hazardous environment can lead to penalties for a business. Consultants can help entrepreneurs document the training they have provided to individual employees. "It's not enough to just say that you've trained people; if an employee has an accident, you'll need to prove that he or she was trained properly," Raymond cautions. "If you have an incident, you'll need to prove that every reasonable precaution was taken to prevent it."
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.