A culture of safety

Maple Leaf Agri-Farms changes mindset from “accidents happen” to “all incidents are preventable.”

Ann Hess, Content Director

June 25, 2019

7 Min Read
Reminders or catchphrases are on all Maple Leaf Agri-Farms barn clothing (scrubs, T-shirts and coveralls) to “Work safe.” Posters on the wall and corkboards in the office and lunch areas are dedicated strictly to health and safety initiatives and motivational messages.Maple Leaf Agri-Farms

For Landmark, Manitoba-based pork producer Maple Leaf Agri-Farms, achieving zero injuries is an attainable goal.

“A lot of the times in sow barns, and all sorts of hog operations, safety is kind of seen as, ‘Well, we work with pigs, you might get hurt’; but Maple Leaf doesn’t think that it should be that way,” says Tia Landry, training coordinator for the hog production operation of Maple Leaf Foods. “We believe zero injuries is an achievable goal, and how we have done that is by creating a culture of safety at Maple Leaf.” 

The Maple Leaf Safety Promise is to “always provide consumers safe, great-tasting food produced in a safe work environment” — a mission statement each of the company’s 714 employees across the 68,000-sow system has now adopted.

“Our whole goal in creating this culture was to shift from a reactive system to a proactive system,” Landry says. “In a reactive system, when someone gets hurt, we might say ‘OK, how can we prevent it from happening again?’ We wanted it to be in a place where we were a proactive system. So how can we prevent that from happening before it even occurs?”

Book of rules
As Landry points out, that shift in thinking did not happen overnight at Maple Leaf.

“This started as top-down initiative from management to enforce safety. We value our people, so it became a rule and a condition of employment to actually work safe in the barns,” Landry says. “This stage was critical to initiate awareness within the teams. Of course, some people were worried ‘I might lose my job,’ but that really was required to create that sort of awareness that there was room for improvement. We didn’t want to instill fear in people, but we wanted them to want to work towards it.”

Unfortunately, during Stage 1 of implementing a culture of safety at Maple Leaf, the book of rules sat in the office untouched.

With no buy-in from employees, Landry says those rules were just listed, with no reasons or explanations.

“A system like this is not ideal for a variety of reasons. It is difficult for anyone to understand and follow a rule if why this rule is in place is not explained; they will have their own ways and reasons for doing things differently, an ‘easier’ or ‘faster’ way,” Landry says. “As a company, Maple Leaf recognized a strong need for employee engagement and standardization.”


Buy-in begins
During Stage 2 of implementing the safety initiative, health and safety committees were developed. Open to all hourly staff, the committees provided an opportunity for all employees at all sites to get together and discuss any safety issues or concerns within their sites. According to Landry, this engagement between employees and management allowed Maple Leaf’s near-miss reporting (preventive measures) to increase by almost 600%.

“We were seeing things before they were happening more and more often,” Landry says. “Our employees were engaged and striving to improve their own workplaces.”

With employees taking more ownership of the program, Maple Leaf Agri-Farms soon entered Stage 3, the proactive stage, and this is where the company sits today in terms of safety protocols. Now, hourly employees are running the health and safety committees and writing the majority of safe work procedures, which are then reviewed by management.

“It is no longer a top-down delegation to be safe. Our health and safety initiatives are coming directly from the employees within all facilities at Maple Leaf Agri-Farms,” Landry says.

Keeping safety top of mind
To keep its employees immersed in the latest safety procedures, Maple Leaf uses two online programs to encourage health and safety engagement. All employees have their own personal account that is monitored by management to ensure training is completed in a timely manner.

The first training is called Alchemy Sistems. A mandatory program all employees in the system must complete, regardless of where they work (feed mill, logistics, barn, etc.), it is specific to safety while employees perform Maple Leaf Agri-Farms tasks. Every employee must complete Alchemy training annually to stay fresh on safety protocol, and not become complacent.

The second training is through Pork Avenue, in conjunction with MLAF’s safe animal handling program. This system is specific to the MLAF production team staff, who are hands-on with the animals.

According to Landry, this training is focused specifically on learning how to perform tasks on-site with the animals in a safe manner for both the staff and the animals. It involves online videos, quizzes and a hands-on portion.

“Each individual is then verified by a mentor, face to face, to ensure they know how to perform daily tasks properly and safely,” Landry says.

Additionally, Landry says managers from different sites will internally “audit” other farms within their production pyramids to help other managers find areas for improvement.

“This method allows for a fresh set of eyes to look over the barn to even further improve safety, and encourages dialogue amongst peers around what was witnessed, possible solutions, potential gaps and lateral learnings,” Landry says. “This method is also fantastic for increasing motivation and engagement, because it inherently instills a sense of value to the person when they are chosen to go visit another site and offer their opinions.”

The involvement through Maple Leaf interactive health and safety committees also provides further training through peer mentoring. Meeting at least once a month, hourly employees are encouraged to develop and record the safe work procedures for their areas, do task observations to see how daily routines can be improved to make them safer, and discuss equipment and personal protective equipment trials.


Protective equipment and incentives
While proper engagement and training are excellent tools for motivation, Landry says Maple Leaf Agri-Farms management realized it needed to do more to continually motivate employees to maintain a culture of safety.

These measures include:

  • Daily huddles. All employees, at the start of each morning in MLAF facilities, sit together as a team to plan the day and discuss the tasks at hand. Staff discuss any near-misses from their own farm and other MLAF sites. Discussion concludes with safety tips for the day and daily reminders for the team to avoid complacency.

  • Daily reminders. Reminders or catchphrases are on all barn clothing (scrubs, T-shirts and coveralls) to “Work safe.” Posters on the wall and corkboards in the office and lunch areas are dedicated strictly to health and safety initiatives and motivational messages.

  • Mandatory personal protective equipment. Anyone entering a production area of an MLAF barn must wear full PPE as required by MLAF standards (staff, contractors and visitors included). The full PPE required includes protective safety glasses, earplugs, dust mask, cut-resistant gloves, steel-toed footwear and a personal hydrogen sulfide (H2S) monitor on one’s chest at all times. If an individual is moving sows, entering the loose sow housing areas or working with finisher pigs, he or she also must wear metatarsal boots. Maple Leaf Agri-Farms provides all PPE.

  • Incentives. For every 50 days a MLAF barn goes recordable injury-free, the employees receive a “gift” and recognition by the management team, such as doughnuts, a pizza party, etc. If the site goes 365 days RI-free, employees are taken out to dinner by management and also receive a gift (backpack, jacket, etc.). There is also an annual monetary bonus that recognizes teams who consistently meet and exceed health and safety requirements.

“These efforts help to prevent incidents from happening. If a team is not performing in this area, they are at risk to lose their bonus,” Landry says. “This is a strong method of motivation to increase proactive measures and report all areas for improvement.”

Empowered employees
Landry says successfully implementing a culture of safety doesn’t just come from T-shirts and posters on the wall, or rewards; it is an ongoing commitment from all employees.

While the company has collectively changed the mindset from “Accidents happen” to “All incidents are preventable,” the entire momentum was driven by the MLAF staff.

“Ultimately, what got us there was empowering our staff and letting them take hold of this program that we run,” Landry says. “They’re the ones working the front line; they’re the ones that should be making these rules, and they want to work safe.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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