Andrew Pugachev, Occupational Health & Safety instructor, Herzing College Winnipeg
In 2017, almost 1000 Canadians died on the job. That's an increase of 46 people from the previous year. And 23 of those workers were very young—between the ages of 15-24 (Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada)
Earlier this year, the CBC reported that these numbers don't even come close to reflecting the true extent of work-related deaths in Canada.
The CBC cites a new study called Work-related Deaths in Canada, which reveals those stats from the Worker's Compensation Boards only include approved compensation claims.
The study authors estimate the "true number of workplace deaths are 10 times greater than official numbers."
So, what are we doing to reduce these fatalities, and other job-related illnesses and injuries?
Enter Andrew Pugachev: expert in workplace safety, and instructor for Herzing's Occupational Health and Safety Officer program.
We interviewed Andrew to understand more about the field of occupational health and safety, the role of a safety officer, and what to expect from Herzing's program.
Considering this career? Here's what you need to know.
Q: Andrew, can you tell us a bit about your background in occupational health and safety? What kinds of roles have you held, and where have you worked?
Andrew: My background is really varied, encompassing 20+ years within the manufacturing sector. I’ve been a Production Supervisor; Occupational Safety and Health Program creator/trainer/implementer, and a C.I. (continuous improvement) guru.
I've worked as a WHMIS, TDG, Lift-truck and Orientation program instructor. I've also been an ISO Coordinator and Quality Assurance leader.
Q: You teach the Occupational Health & Safety Officer program at Herzing. Can you explain exactly what a Health & Safety Officer does?
Andrew: Occupational health and safety officers inspect workplaces for health hazards, and develop strategies to control risk. They make sure management is following health and safety laws, investigate accidents, injuries, and complaints—and create programs to ensure continuous improvement (C.I.).
It all begins with open communication, dedication, and commitment from upper management in an organization. Then, there's an auditing process to see where improvements are needed.
We look at things like JHA (job hazard analysis), SFP (safe-work procedures), and education in M.S.D.S. (material safety data sheets).
The health and safety officer makes sure the company "walks the walk" and "talks the talk". There are penalties for companies that don't comply with government regulations.
Everyone within the organization is accountable to think and act safely. Management, supervisors, lead-hands and the workers.
Each one is subject to the proper training, education and compliance—health and safety officers play a key role in this process.
Q: So, who are your students? What kinds of backgrounds do they come from?
Andrew: Much like my own background, it's a really varied group! There are people new to Canada looking for a way to help others be safe at work. Many have had experiences with unsafe work environments, and feel personally motivated to protect others.
And then we have students from a wide range of industries, including construction, trucking, health care, manufacturing, the military, mining, hospitality and so much more. It's definitely a very diverse class.
Q: What are the most important skills you teach in this program?
Andrew: The ability to be concise and direct when communicating about safety. Clarity is essential, particularly when our workforce is so diverse with different cultures, ethnicities and languages.
The education and training element is key when developing a strong safety culture in the workplace. Health and safety officers must be able to connect with the workers, and get their input on what needs changing.
You have to talk with the people who are actually doing the work. This lets them know their opinions matter—and then they're much more likely to embrace the program and commit to the changes.
If you don't communicate well, and get workers (and management) to "buy in", they'll feel like the safety programs are being shoved down their throats! Obviously, you won't get positive results.
So, along with all the theory and technical skills, our students learn how to get things done. They understand how to get a consensus, and motivate people to get on board with good safety programs in the workplace.
Q: Where do your health and safety graduates find work?
Andrew: So far, our internship program has seen placement for our graduates within construction, manufacturing, trucking and safety auditing organizations. Grads are getting hired straight out of their internships, which is excellent.
The Occupational Health & Safety Program is new at Herzing, but the positive results keep streaming in!
Q: Is this industry growing? Is there demand for health and safety officers in Winnipeg?
Andrew: Yes, the industry is growing and constantly hiring in Winnipeg. This is evident, not only within all the industries I already mentioned, but also within organizations like Safe-work Manitoba, Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health, W.C.B., C.O.R. and so forth.
In many cases, there aren’t enough health and safety officers to efficiently serve our vast province. So we're certainly seeing strong growth in this field, and a lot of job opportunities.
Q: What are the biggest myths about the occupational health and safety industry?
Andrew: There are quite a few! Some believe the health and safety industry is of no value and is simply the government's way to create jobs and force employers into costly operating budgets. This is not so.
The truth is, many people don't realize the huge impact a single severe injury and/or death has on an organization.
First, there's the human cost to that employee, their family and co-workers. A family can lose income, and benefit coverage for the children and spouses. The company loses an experienced employee and will likely need to train a replacement.
This will affect production targets, quality, and morale within the ranks. Not to mention a potential “stop-work order” that shuts down the business for an undisclosed amount of time— impacting customer service and JIT (just-in-time delivery).
The company's reputation within the industry will be tarnished, customers lost, revenue gone . . . and likely fines and higher insurance costs/deductibles.
There's no doubt about it: an effective health and safety program absolutely helps reduce/eliminate such horrible occurrences.
A second misconception is that safety programs are “easy” and will be well-received in all organizations. This is far from the truth. Management is rarely on board because of the “perceived costs” to start up— and the archaic belief that “we didn’t need it back then, so why now?”
I tell my students to “show them the money" and convince them with facts. I teach them to present a case study that SHOWS the very high price of poor workplace safety. It won’t be pretty - but it will be very compelling!
So again, this is where communication is such a key skill. You need to communicate persuasively to get everyone on the same page.
Q: Who is an "ideal" candidate for a career in occupational health and safety? What natural skills does it take to succeed?
Andrew: Someone who is a great communicator and not shy. You must have the desire to help people, and train/educate them with clarity and conciseness.
Any successful health and safety program must be carefully scheduled, well in advance, so as not to negatively effect production. So, you need to be well-organized. Do this and respect will develop.
And always remember, no matter how much you think you know, there’s always more. So learn to listen early and often to everyone and anyone with something valuable to add!
And of course, you must be eager to learn—and keep on learning—throughout your entire health and safety career. This is the kind of student we're looking for in the Occupational Health and Safety Program.
Thanks so much, Andrew, for taking the time to talk with us! This is a really great introduction to Herzing's program—and the field in general.
Are you considering this career path, and want more information on health and safety training?
Fast facts about the Health & Safety program:
- Herzing's Occupational Health & Safety Officer program is approved by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP)
- BCRSP approval means our graduates are immediately eligible to take the Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) Certification exam (required by many employers in the field and recognized across Canada)
- training is available at the Winnipeg campus, or online through FlexEd
- program runs for 12 months, full time
- guaranteed 8-week internship
Use the links below to explore Herzing's Health and Safety Officer Diploma, get more detailed information, and chat live with an Admissions Advisor. We're here to help!