All new workers go through 1-on-1 safety orientation at Southwest Properties

Engagement, communication, and safety ownership are important elements of this general contractor’s safety program


Every Southwest development site has a safety advisor. Having a dedicated advisor on each site has contributed to Southwest’s strong safety culture and low lost-time injury rate. Advisors are on sites every day, ready and available to support Southwest’s subtrades.

“In Nova Scotia there’s a huge labour shortage right now and we want our team healthy and ready for work,” said Jason Comeau, CSS, (pictured above) construction safety manager for Southwest Properties, a real estate developer based in Halifax. “We want every single person to go home healthy each and every day.”

Recently, Southwest’s Cunard site was recognized by the Department of Labour as one of the safest sites in the city. It has a dedicated emergency procedure (D.E.P) box that is lifted by the tower crane and can be placed on almost any level of the building. The box contains a stretcher, harnesses & lanyards, and a first aid kit in it. This box aids the site team in safely rescuing an individual in a timely manner.

“Our procedure is to have a worker safely positioned on the ground before the paramedics arrive at the site,” Comeau said. “We’re one of the only companies in the city that have a D.E.P. system. We hope we never have to use it, but we want to be prepared to effectively handle any situation that we could potentially encounter.”

Common sense approach
Comeau says Southwest takes a safe but common-sense approach to safety standards.

We require subtrade to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) relevant to the job they are working on. The workers are very involved in the process of PPE requirements which helps combat complacency.

“We give the worker the ability to say, ‘These are my hazards, this is what I need to protect myself from, and this is the PPE I need to wear based on the job task and the current surroundings.’ We give them the ability to identify what is required for them to physically do their tasks safely,” Comeau said. “This empowers people to do the right thing because no one wants to get hurt. It also makes them understand that they must do a quick hazard assessment before they start tasks.”

1-on-1 orientation
After sitting through numerous orientations in the construction industry and witnessing the lack of engagement among those in the room, Comeau decided to do the safety orientation a bit differently at Southwest. He sits down one-on-one with each new worker, outlines the expectations, and ensures they understand the company is genuinely concerned about their safety, health, and well-being.

“I am here to help them do their job the most efficiently and in the safest way they possibly can, and in turn everyone has a certain level of responsibility for safety. Everyone on site knows they can call me at any point in time with any questions or concerns.”

Communication, communication, communication
At the end of the orientation, Comeau makes sure each worker understands the importance of asking questions. If they don’t know how to do something safely or are unsure, they need to ask questions to get the correct answers either from their direct supervisor/foreman or the onsite safety advisor.

Comeau also tries to give as much feedback and recognition as possible. He is regularly thanking the trade workers for doing a great job and taking the right steps to avoid injury at work.

He attends the monthly JOHSC meetings which all subtrades are required to attend. Comeau encourages everyone to speak up and if they do have an issue or a concern, he makes sure to act on it in a timely manner.

“We immediately act on those issues or concerns because if you don’t, people feel that they are not being heard,” he said. “The last thing we want is someone to see a hazard and not say anything to anyone. This could potentially result in an injury, all because it wasn’t communicated.”

COR® certification
As a developer, Southwest is always looking for the subcontractors to have a safety program that is at least as good or better than theirs. As a COR® certified company, Comeau says having that certification helps them lead by example and show they are dedicated to safety.

“We want trades working with us to be held to the same standard that we’re trying to achieve. When we have bids come in for projects, while price is important, our weighted criteria for evaluations has a strong focus on quality of work and safety. We will look at their safety program and previous track record,” Comeau said. “COR® ensures you’re thinking about all the angles that could prevent somebody from getting injured. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about — preventing people from getting injured when they’re working here on the site.”