Innovations
May 7, 2012

Trading ideas

To the reporters who’d gathered in the Alberta Legislature press room, the blue plastic bucket in reserved seating may have looked more like a janitorial oversight than the starring act of a new workplace safety ad.

Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta’s Minister of Employment and Immigration, directed the crowd’s attention to the 10-litre pail before the lights were dimmed and the ad, featuring the bucket’s stunt double, rolled on the big screen.

“This is the story of a bucket,” begins the TV ad. “Now buckets are naturally docile. But this bucket on this day would change this belief. You see, all day long he sat, screaming as loud as a bucket could for someone, for anyone to notice. But no one did. Neglected and lonely, he lashed out.”

Cue a health-care worker tripping over the misplaced bucket, the sound of a woman calling for help, and the ad cuts to black and the words, “Put it away while it’s a bucket. Not an injury.”

“Bucket” is one of a series of three television, three radio and two print ads that began airing and appearing in newspapers in Alberta in March.

The ads are memorable for their cheekiness, as inanimate objects past their prime – a bucket, nail, ladder, hardhat, box and eye protection – literally cry out for attention. Equally unforgettable is how the tone of each ad suddenly switches, as the object causes a horrible injury, complete with sickening sound effects.

But what also sets these ads apart from other Alberta campaigns is how they landed in the province in the first place.

The ads originally ran in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, and have since been adopted in New Brunswick. The Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia shared the creative materials with Alberta, which was similarly concerned by its number of on-the-job injuries and fatalities.

Lukaszuk said in the face of the current economic downturn, governments are under pressure to reexamine their expenditures and streamline operations. Governments are also aware of a need for similar approaches to information as people regularly move across borders.

Lukaszuk believes there are significant opportunities to share resources, especially around universal themes, like workplace health and safety. By borrowing the ads, Alberta not only saved time and money, but also got the word out to more people.

The Alberta campaign cost $600,000 and ran province wide. Producing a similar campaign from scratch would have cost about $900,000.

“Collaborative efforts across the country represent cost-savings for taxpayers and I think this is really just the tip of the iceberg,” said Lukaszuk. “As governments, we should be sitting down at the table to see if there are other areas of common ground.”

“Regardless of whether we live on the East Coast, the West Coast or somewhere in between, we all want the same thing – that is, for our loved ones to come home safe at the end of the day,” he said. “We should all be working together to drive home that message.”

Some of the best examples of resource and information sharing are happening through the Canadian Association of Administrators of Labour Legislation (CAALL).

CAALL is a forum for discussing and sharing information and best practices on workplace problems common to all jurisdictions, such as industrial relations, employment standards and occupational safety and health. The organization, which was established in 1938, is comprised of federal-provincial-territorial deputy ministers responsible for labour, as well as the heads of several occupational health and safety agencies.

Through CAALL and its inter-jurisdictional Occupational Safety and Health committee (CAALL-OSH), a number of projects have been executed, from the development of an Internet training program for field inspection staff and a project to reduce workplace violence, to the creation of a national framework for consistent national law, as was the case with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

A recent success story saw several provinces join forces to fight the flu.

As concern mounted last fall over the spread of the H1N1 virus in the workplace, CAALL-OSH organized regular teleconferences to discuss the response from individual jurisdictions. As a result of those exchanges, Alberta offered up a publication it had only recently developed.

Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan jumped at the opportunity, and with Alberta’s permission, put their own stamps on The Best Practice Guideline for Health and Safety During Pandemic Influenza. With minor tweaks, both provinces were able to adapt the document to reflect their respective policies around employment standards.

Marilyn More, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Labour and Workforce Development, said when the need for a best practice guide was identified in the CAALL meetings, it seemed like a “logical conclusion” to review the Alberta work.

“The ability to take a document that had been developed and reviewed allowed us to get to print more quickly than if we had to start from a blank piece of paper,” said More. “The laws between our jurisdictions are comparable and the advice on best practice is similar.”

Mike Carr, Associate Deputy Minister in the Labour, Employee and Employer Services division of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour in Saskatchewan, agrees. “It probably cut six months out of development. We had an expeditious need that was met by an expeditious offer and that has served us well.”

Carr said the Saskatchewan government sees inter-jurisdictional collaboration as a way to make better use of the limited resources it receives from the public. Through CAALL, Saskatchewan helped develop training tools for conciliation services and borrowed software from Alberta to administer the appointment of arbitrators. And recently, Saskatchewan made use of a WorkSafe BC guide for those employed in personal care homes, group homes and other settings.

“Having a relatively small population, we need to shepherd resources prudently and look for sharing where we can,” he said. “Saskatchewan is really an advocate of this kind of thing and is prepared to partner around virtually every product we produce to advance service delivery to the citizens of this country.”

For years, workers’ compensation organizations across Canada have freely shared information and resources. In the Atlantic region, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have been working together since 2006 and estimate the partnership has saved them a combined $2 million.

“Typically there are no costs associated with using resources from other jurisdictions other than to customize the materials or ads for a specific market,” explained More. “It helps us to gain the maximum effectiveness of our marketing and communications budgets.”

Audiences across the continent have picked up on the buzz over the Nova Scotia workplace safety ads. A number of workplaces have asked to use the ads, including the North American Space Agency (NASA) and the Washington D.C. Airport Authority.

“Anecdotally, employers, workers and the general public were moved by the powerful message. We heard about the ads in workplaces, at tradeshows, and in many emailed comments and other feedback,” said More. “The message that small things can lead to big problems seems to resonate regardless of industry or market.”

The ads have picked up a number of international awards, including a Bronze Lion for the nail spot at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in France in 2008. Two new stars were recently introduced to the series – “guard and blade” and “tape.”

Shawn King, chief creative officer for Extreme Group, said he’s pleased to

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