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Safety at WNH extends beyond “call before you dig”

Waterloo North Hydro staff received two Canada’s Safest Employers awards during a special ceremony in Toronto Oct. 22. From left to right: Jeff Quint, Jim Idsardi, Andrea Gregoris, Heather Schnurr and Will Stratford. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

A multi-pronged approach to safety, from the dangers posed to customer to the mental wellbeing of employees, has netted Waterloo North Hydro (WNH) a pair of prestigious national awards, particularly for their thorough work breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health.

The publically owned utility was the recipient of a gold award in the Psychological Safety category and a silver award in the Utilities and Electrical category from Canada’s Safest Employers during a special award ceremony held last week in Toronto.

“We’re a fairly safe organization; I don’t think that was a surprise that we won that one,” said  WNH spokesperson Jeff Quint. “The psychological safety one was something we were definitely surprised at.”

WNH introduced a corporate wellness program back in 2010 that has grown to include a robust mental health component. A psychological health and safety management program was incorporated in 2012 following the tragic death of an employee within the company.

Mental health first aid training, awareness programs, informative health-related sessions, and campaigns are all elements of this program.

“It’s simply enough training so that if you noticed someone’s behaviour is a little off, you would take the first step in asking ‘Are you okay?’ If they weren’t, that you help them to find the right help,” explained Quint on the mental health first aid training. Employees are further taught how to identify specific signs that someone may be struggling.

“Today, you might be good, but tomorrow you’re not. Every day changes, every day is different. It’s about breaking down barriers that make people more comfortable having those conversations.”

Awareness on the topic is also brought to the forefront through WNH’s support of Bell Let’s Talk Day, an annual initiative aimed at fighting the stigma associated with mental health. WNH also supports the Movember movement, a yearly event throughout November involving the growing of moustaches to raise awareness about men’s health issues.

WNH employees also participated in the Region of Waterloo’s five-week Road to Mental Well-Being campaign over the summer. Other more casual initiatives undertaken by WNH include workout classes, team-building sessions, and cooking classes.

Quint said that the program has transitioned from formal to more informal over the years – the efforts are all employee-driven.

“It’s the little things … it’s not one big momentous thing; we don’t go out and bring in a high-priced guest speaker,” said Quint. “It’s these little pieces that you keep slowly arming people with, and providing them so that they can build up their toolbox, so to speak.”

Examples of these little pieces could include an email or a consultation. WNH employs approximately 128 employees, who are encouraged to use as many resources as needed. Some may use all, while others may use just one component, said Quint. 

Employees and their spouses also have the option to attend a financial health session option that takes place after hours. These sessions help to de-stress attendees with their various money-related issues, including planning for retirement or working through a financial crisis.

“The mental health, well-being, and safety of our employees is always a top priority for Waterloo North Hydro,” said WNH’s president and CEO Rene Gatien in a statement. “We are honoured to be recognized with this award.”

The silver award was somewhat to be expected for the company; WNH has recorded more than five consecutive years with zero lost-time injuries. The organization also holds safety training sessions for first responders, contractors, and other community groups to improve public safety further.

“We educate customers on what they need to do with safety: how to be safe when a power line is down, call before you dig, what to do if a power line falls on your car, how far you should stay back,” said Quint, listing examples of what these public safety training sessions consist of.

Those who frequent community events may recognize ‘Lectric Larry, a retired WNH employee who delivers fun electrical safety sessions to students. Larry made presentations to 3,548 students, amounting to 85 percent of students within the WNH service territory, throughout 2018. His work is part of the School Safety Program, in which some 18,000 have participated since 2012.

WNH provides regulated electricity distribution services to 57,000 residential and business customers spanning 683 square kilometres in Wellesley, Woolwich and Waterloo. The utility is jointly owned by the three municipalities in proportion to their populations.

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