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White

Carola Mittag-
As I begin this first blog for the new year, I’ll share a message that one of my grade school teachers wrote in an autograph book that I had all my teachers sign at the end of the school year.

“Your life lies before you like a path of new fallen snow. Be careful how you tread it for every mark will show.”

It came to mind when I woke up on Christmas morning to a winter wonderland. After all, we had been singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”. The dream came true.

I’d like to change my teacher’s phrase a little to: “The year lies before you like a path of new fallen snow. Be careful how you tread it for every act will show.”

Since this month’s theme is ‘White’, I’ll begin with Robert Rauschenberg’s 3-panel White Paintings (1951).

Making Sense of White Paintings

Several years ago, I attended a live theatre production called “White”. The setting of the play was an art gallery where three friends were viewing a painting entitled “White”. One of the men, quite arrogantly wanting to impress, had nothing but praise for this piece of art that was all white. The second friend offered up the opinion that the artist must have had a specific reason for creating this “White” piece and tried to engage his friends in a discussion about its deeper meaning. The third friend simply laughed at the white panel and at his friends for their interpretations of “White”, more or less suggesting that they had been hoodwinked into believing there was value in the white piece.

The point of this preamble is to explain that whatever we read, hear or see is open to interpretation based on our past experiences. Those experiences are what shape our personal opinions and behaviours. So it also is in health and safety.

A person, fresh out of trade school or college, quite possibly embarks on their first job with an air of overconfidence, thinking that they know it all – the job, the hazards and the risks. They are the blank or ‘white’ canvas.

It is why it is so important to have supervisors oversee workers, to ensure that they are performing work safely. It is why the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills development (MLTSD) requires supervisors to have a level of competence that not only protects the workers they oversee, but to also understand how to keep the workplace/workspace safe. Without any form of supervisory training, supervisors are poorly equipped to do the job required of them by law. The definition of a Competent Supervisor is “to be knowledgeable about the work he/she is supervising, to receive training, and to understand the law as it pertains to their supervisory role”.

In the event of a workplace accident that prompts an MLTSD investigation, one of the first questions asked is “What training has the supervisor had?” It is part of the investigation process to get to the root cause of an accident. In the interest of due diligence, the employer better be able to provide proof that the supervisor had received competency training. Without fulfilling the definition of competency, the supervisor is nothing more that the “white” panel when, in reality, he/she should have deeper substance, that is – be knowledgeable, be trained and understand health and safety law. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the competency of anyone promoted to a supervisory position within one week of that person becoming a Supervisor.

In today’s workplaces, legally, there is no room for employers to overlook the importance of safety, for supervisors to oversee workers without having proper competency training, and for workers to work without proper supervision and training. There is an obligation for everyone, owners, managers, supervisors and workers to be ever vigilant and responsible when it comes to workplace safety. That is what is meant by the Internal Responsibility System.

These are the facts folks. So, I suggest to all that as we embark on 2021, it is a blank or ‘white’, unmarked path/canvas where every action (or inaction) will leave a mark. What it will look like at the end of the year, depends on the actions of all workplace parties.

Watch for next month’s Blog published in the first week of February.

Sincerely,

Carola Mittag

Past President, Workplace Safety Group

Consultant and Editor for Mentor Safety Consultants Inc.