Reducing Workplace Injuries by Putting Employees First

May 6, 2015 11:35 AM ET

Cermaq Canada, one of the largest producers of farm-raised salmon in British Columbia, recognizes the importance maintaining high standards for the health and safety of its employees to ensure a more productive work environment. This was brought to the forefront early in 2012, when Cermaq Canada reported 45 employee absences in their processing plants due to injuries, particularly sore shoulders, backs, and wrists. This was astonishing to Dave Samson, Cermaq Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Officer, because in previous years there was an average of six injuries per year – well below the number recorded for 2012. It was obviously time to do something to reduce this number again, but what?

Driven by a need to ensure the safety of his workers and decrease the number of injuries in the processing plants, Dave hired Rehabilitation in Motion (RIM), known today as CBI Health Group, to conduct an audit of the Tofino plant. In observing the daily routines of the employees, RIM discovered that as individuals moved a certain way for an extended period of time, they experienced increased injuries to those muscles due to repetitive movements.

Now that the cause of the injuries had been identified, Dave could take the appropriate corrective action. Working closely with RIM, he came up with a plan, which included having ergonomists visit the plants to teach employees a series of stretching exercises that would increase blood flow to the different areas in the body. Initially this was met with resistance, but as it slowly became habit the employees started to see improvements in their own physical well-being. This has now become a part of the daily routine and plant employees take stretching breaks every two hours – keeping themselves in better physical shape and reducing injuries.

The positive impact is felt at all levels of the company and the management staff now have the ability to respond quickly to situations that have the potential to negatively affect employees, which is what happened with long-time employee Valerie Gregor. After being on maternity leave, Valerie returned to work and started experiencing pain in her shoulders and elbow after only being back for two months. This not only impacted Valerie’s productivity at work, but it also affected her in her ability to pick up her son as she wasn’t able to lift her arms above her shoulders. Valerie mentioned this to her manager and a week later action was taken to order her a specially designed chair, as well as a new adjustable work desk. In addition, an ergonomist helped Valerie adjust her seat properly, based on the height of her screen, and taught her some stretches she could do throughout the day. Thanks to the quick-response of her manager, she no longer experiences any pain and is able to resume normal activities in her daily life.

“We take pride in providing a safe environment for our employees,” said Dave. “Not only are they physically healthier, but also mentally. When they’re not getting injured, they are more confident and enjoy coming to work because they know we’re looking out for them. Morale has gone up and the work environment is a happier, more positive place for everyone.”

In focusing on the health and safety of their employees, Cermaq Canada achieved their goal and didn’t report any absences due to workplace injuries for 2014 and the start of 2015. This has been a positive learning experience for everyone, and has improved the dedication of the employees as they continue to see positive changes around them.