Purchasing peace of mind—June print edition

Procurement can have a significant impact on health and safety within an organization

July 2, 2013
by By Roger Nenonen

I’ve recently joined the joint health & safety committee for my employer, public works & transportation at the City of Sault Ste. Marie. As the supervisor and buyer for a stores department, I appreciate that purchasing professionals can contribute to health and safety, and at the same time, their employer’s bottom line.

Each day, Supply chain professionals concern themselves with cost and quality of the materials and services. We can also promote health and safety, since most products and services cross our desks before workers and organizations feel their impact.

The leading positive impact is to establish controls at the source—purchasers can and should strive to support this. And since procurement professionals act as agents for their employer, they would do well to note the Occupational Health & Safety Act’s mandate of due diligence: take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker” (Section 25(2)(h)). The term “protection of the worker” translates into basic socio-economic health, where families thrive in terms of financial and emotional health (an injury affects far more people than just the worker). It also translates into dollar savings for employers, since so much is spent on WSIB, and short- and long-term disability—not to mention finding replacement workers as well as potential quality and productivity losses.  Here are several areas (among others) where purchasing professionals can contribute:

Tools & equipment:
In public works, good tools are safe tools. Well-balanced tools reduce injuries due to vibration; job-specific carts reduce back injuries from moving heavy items; and well-planned and quality shelving reduce or eliminate loading and dropping hazards. Office furniture and seating play a role in protecting office staff and purchasing can help recommend suppliers who are proactive with ergonomic equipment. This applies to all industries. Lastly, good design doesn’t have to cost more. This is where supplier feedback and recommendations of layout are often available for free—purchasers simply have to ask.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Well-designed, comfortable PPE tends to be worn more often—meaning enhanced compliance—and the (sometimes) higher cost is worth the protection. An example in my workplace is hearing protection: we carry several sizes to cover all workers (ear canal sizes vary). Again, proper fit and comfort means improved user compliance and reduced injury potential.

Purchasing can lead in this regard by helping to ensure contractors carry WSIB insurance and use approved safety equipment/practices for their workers. Clauses may be included on purchase orders to emphasize a safe work expectation from the owner, in the same manner as performance expectations. For example, some requirements could include: using risk-assessments prior to work; using PPE where applicable; confirmation of work-specific safety training; contingency planning for emergencies; and daily safety talks. Purchasers should outline safety expectations so they’re not ignored as merely purchase order fine print. End-users can also help in making safe work the top priority.

Beyond providing pricing and delivery in response to purchaser requests, suppliers can provide much expertise at no cost. Here are some examples of benefits my employer has received from suppliers: training for fall-arrest systems; respirator mask fit-testing; ideas for warehouse floor plans to improve ergonomics and safety; and information and expert knowledge of safety trends from trade shows.

Internal customers
In listening to internal customers its clear that purchasers are a resource for direction regarding supply trends, suppliers and product/service information. Requests often arrive with questions. This is where one’s knowledge and awareness of product safety can be applied and recommended.

A recent example from my workplace was to recommend and purchase a safe graffiti remover for our parks department. Had our department not reviewed the product (check the MSDS), it would have introduced a hazard that would be used by our parks workers. Safety was applied as a control at the source (purchase). That’s a better option than bringing in a potentially dangerous product and relying on proper use of personal protective equipment.

In conclusion, purchasing professionals can contribute to cost savings by thinking about safety and knowing that while a quality supply chain is important, the mindset of “protection of the worker” needs to be included.

Roger Nenonen, SCMP, is stores supervisor, public works and transportation, with the City of Sault Ste. Marie. Reach him at