It was the right place at the right time — and the right opportunity. Anne Tennier has been an independent consultant for the past two years, but she recently stepped back into the 9-to-5 life with her recent appointment as president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). She’s the first female in the organization’s 40-year history to take the helm.
“It’s about looking at opportunities from a lens of being able to make an impact... This was an opportunity to lead an organization that really is focused on making people’s lives better,” she says. “That’s what you aspire to do when you get later into your career.”
When Tennier joined Hamilton-based CCOHS in April, the centre had many initiatives on the go. Not surprisingly, impairment is the first area of focus that comes to mind for Tennier, with the national legalization of recreational cannabis coming Oct. 17. CCOHS has a variety of resources available on this topic, including an e-course, a white paper, a podcast and a one-page handout.
“Many workplaces already have impairment policies and I would encourage all our workplaces to really look at those policies and understand how to make sure that they are implemented in the workplace,” says Tennier. “Make sure that everybody understands that impairment really is about your personal safety and your co-workers’ safety.”
Mental health is another area of focus for CCOHS. In the past year or so, the organization has moved from “awareness to action,” says Tennier, and it has developed a tool kit to help employers embrace psychological safety.
“We believe this aspect is part of a comprehensive approach to health and safety programs,” she says.
Employers are warming up to the mental health side of things, but many are still trying to figure out how to integrate it into their health and safety programs.
“I think that’s going to take a few years until everyone is really comfortable and we’ve got tools that are very practical, and our knowledge base is going to evolve as we know more,” says Tennier. “I’m sure it’s going to be an evolving science over the next few years.”
Workplace violence and harassment has been a hot topic recently, especially with the #MeToo movement. The federal government’s proposed Bill C-65 would strengthen protections for workers around violence and harassment, and this is something CCOHS will be watching closely.
Tennier recommends employers make sure their workforce is well-educated and understands the company policy on psychological, physical and sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Some of the behaviours have been unconscious behaviours that have perhaps been tolerated over the years,” she says. “Don’t be shy. Take it seriously. Don’t just assume ‘Well, so-and-so has always been this way.’ Perhaps it’s just not acceptable. You have to challenge status quo sometimes.”
Harmonization of safety legislation is yet another focus at the centre. It is working with a national committee made up of various stakeholders to align legislation from the different jurisdictions where possible.
“Having worked for a couple of employers that are nationally prominent, certainly harmonization is a very important issue for employers and, frankly, with the mobility of the workforce we have now where employees move and work in different provinces, it’s certainly something whose time has come,” says Tennier.
A CRASH COURSE
For most of her career, Tennier has worked in industries that have inherently dangerous activities — pulp and paper, food processing, railways — so she couldn’t help but be passionate about occupational health and safety. On her very first day as the field operations manager for Northern Ontario at Canadian Pacific Railway, a small airline crash forced the company to close its main rail line that runs across Canada. Since the crash happened near the airport in Thunder Bay, Ont., Tennier had to work with the airport and the owner of the aircraft to remove the plane from the line, as well as re-route train traffic. Fortunately, no one was injured.
“It was really quite an interesting study of occupational safety from a perspective that you don’t particularly think about that’s going to happen the first day on the job…It was really educational,” she says.
While Tennier’s roles have primarily been in technical areas — she is a registered Professional Engineer and Certified Environmental Professional — she picked up “a little bit of everything” throughout her career, she says, such as finance and marketing. When she was the vice-president of environmental affairs and sustainability at Maple Leaf Foods, marketing indirectly became part of her role as she determined how environmental sustainability could be used as a competitive advantage for the company.
“It’s amazing what you absorb in your career,” Tennier says. “I had exposure to many, many areas in my career and I am forever thankful for that.”
Tennier holds various positions with community associations, including the Hamilton Conservation Foundation and le Centre Français Hamilton. She is the vice-chair on the board of directors for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. She also volunteers with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
Tennier has been appointed president of CCOHS for five years. In that time, her goal is to see the centre become the go-to place for all facets of OHS information across Canada — a real centre of excellence.
“How do we do that? Through collaboration, through partnerships and working with many stakeholders, whether that’s the federal government, provincial governments, labour, employer groups. All those constituencies, I would hope they would look to us and say, ‘That’s what we need, that’s excellence in action.’ And that’s what we strive for.”