Fortis’s attention to health and safety pays off

Nora Duke, president and CEO of Fortis Properties, came to the hotel and commercial real estate company from an electrical utility business.

ST. JOHN’S, NL—Nora Duke, president and CEO, Fortis Properties, came to the hotel and commercial real estate company from Fortis’ parent, which is in the electrical utility business. 

“Due to the nature of that business, there was a fair amount of safety, and I came from that background,” Duke told CLN. At Newfoundland Power, a utility company primarily involved in power distribution, she was responsible for HR, safety and customer satisfaction.

While hotels and commercial buildings don’t have many of the obvious dangers of a utility company, there is certainly potential for risk, with plenty of trips, slips, falls and soft-tissue injuries, Duke noted.

When Duke came to Fortis Properties 10 years ago, she brought that focus with her. “At that time, there was a growing concern about workers’ compensation claims, and we had to get our heads around that,” she said.

Fortis Properties started formally tracking health and safety just over a decade ago. The company has 23 hotels, 2.7 million square feet of commercial real estate and 2,400 employees spread over eight provincial jurisdictions. “When we realized we had an issue with worker heath and safety, we had a big ship to turn,” said Duke.

“We realized it would not be a quick fix, but a shift in culture that would mature over time. We have to keep focusing on this, making it a priority every single day.”

Fortis’ goals are not financial targets, but expectations and responsibilities. 

General managers at each Fortis property or head office are accountable for putting decisions in place, actively engaging their teams and setting goals. Members of the leadership team have incentive programs, with safety expectations written into their agreements.

Katrina Hynes, manager,  health and safety at Fortis Properties Corporation.

Katrina Hynes, manager, health and safety at Fortis Properties Corporation.

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Each property has an internal health and safety audit every year, said Katrina Hynes, Fortis Properties’ manager of health and safety, who has been with the company since 2006.

“Now we have added a scoring component, with a breakdown into areas such as health and safety training, disability management and contractor safety. Regional safety champions assist in getting the audit complete, and sometimes we have someone who is strong on safety at one property audit another hotel.”

Specific measures can be as simple and straightforward as encouraging room attendants to do some stretching before they start work. “It’ a good practice, and a team building exercise,” Duke explained.

Nora Duke.

Nora Duke.

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Early and safe return to work

Disability management and early and safe return to work are key priorities in 2013, along with an intensified approach to contractor safety and emergency preparedness.

The longer a person is off work, the longer it takes to reintegrate. “We try to get them to come back doing modified work,” said Duke. ‘For example, a room attendant might work on the front desk, or in the back office doing inventory—doing light or alternative work, and eventually returning to full-time duties.”

Keeping that focus could translate into reduced Workers’ Compensation Board premiums, especially if the property’s rates are on the high end of the scale.

Health and safety week

During North American Occupational Health and Safety (NAOSH) week in May, Fortis Properties’ head office in St. John’s held a wellness fair in the banquet rooms at lunch, including a blood pressure check. The fire department demonstrated fire extinguisher use. Employees responded to a challenge to celebrate safety with a poem, video or other creative means of expression. One of the poems appears below.

“The idea is to keep the momentum and visibility. Every property constantly amazes me with their ideas,” said Duke.

Are You as Safe as You Think?

Safety’s important and preparation’s the key
So pay close attention and listen to me
Every day you get ready and walk through the door
But, are you as safe as you think for what’s in store?

Working outside, you’re trying to do your best
You wear your safety goggles and florescent vest
You think you’re ready for the dangers you meet
But did you remember to put the right boots on your feet?

You’re cleaning up rooms each and every day
You move tripping hazards out of the way
Keeping things tidy, you’re on the right track
But did you lift with your knees and not with your back?

Kitchens have dangers around all twists and turns
You wear the proper items so you don’t get burns
You don’t keep sharp objects just lying around
But did you label chemicals that are easily found?

You should always have safety in the front of your mind
And be prepared for any issues that you may find
Do a safety checklist before you get on the go
And you won’t have to think you’re safe, you’ll know

Katie Fudge – Property Accountant
Greenwood Inn & Suites Corner Brook