Sense of Ownership 3 minute read

Health and Safety: Canal Culture

A lesson learned from the Canal’s history is that occupational health and safety must be a daily priority.

Every year in April, World Day for Safety and Health at Work is celebrated. On the 28th, individuals, companies and countries reflect on the tremendous challenge of building resilience to face today’s crises and those to come.

Salud y seguridad: cultura canalera

The World Labor Organization (ILO) stressed this year the importance of investing in resilient health and safety systems to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to crises.

In the case of the construction of the first Canal, the lessons learned from the many deaths due to poor health conditions and occupational accidents, left a footprint on the management style that would prevail on the interoceanic waterway.

The adoption of occupational health and safety measures transformed Canal work into a healthy and safe place.

Condition and behavior

Creating a safe work environment goes beyond putting on a hard hat and vest. For the workforce to cope with the violent swings of a pandemic or the impact of an event such as the grounding of the Ever Given in Suez, requires an investment in the condition and behavior of everyone in an organization.

Salud y seguridad: cultura canalera i - El Faro - Canal de Panamá
Max Emanuel Schmidt

“Culture kills strategy,” says Max Schmidt, manager in charge of industrial hygiene and safety, quoting Peter Drucker. Schmidt observes that it is no use saying what needs to be done if the plan is not intersectional. “I emphasize, above all, teamwork because what we achieve has the involvement of colleagues from communication, operations, medical surveillance and training.”

The strategy aims to make occupational safety a proactive presence on job sites. “Observations play a critical role in identifying and controlling risk exposure, reinforcing safe behaviors, and as a consequence, decreasing accidents,” Schmidt notes.

Maribel Franceschi - El Faro - Canal de Panamá
Maribel Franceschi

A comprehensive health culture

Maribel Franceschi, Health Manager, explains that the Canal workforce was resilient to the impact of the pandemic.

“New health protocols were incorporated to deal with contagion and biosecurity. It became imperative to have renewed surveillance and epidemiological monitoring plans. This led to an exhaustive review of all health processes to guarantee the care and improvement of the physical and mental health conditions of all workers”.

The medical surveillance cited by Schmidt and Franceschi includes medical examinations and evaluations, first aid care, strengthening for the injured or disabled, corporate psychology program to address emotional support needs, organizational studies, attention to issues related to substance abuse and dependency, and wellness and fitness programs.

Individual participation and collective performance

Wellness is a situation that is desired to be reached through two avenues: on the individual side and the organizational side. “The worker gives priority to his or her health and the company updates its care programs. Health is our most precious asset,” says Franscechi.

Salud y seguridad: cultura canalera

Data are the characters

For Schmidt, data is the key and he remarks that “we must leverage more on the use of technologies to collect data efficiently and work on transforming that data into information”.

In the pandemic context, this translates into a working system that “enables accurate data collection and identifies virus outbreaks as early as possible,” as noted in the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2021 Report, presented by the World Labor Organization.

In short, a pandemic scenario like Covid-19 brings the collective nature of all these ideas into focus. “The people who work at the Canal share a unique set of values, attitudes and behaviors that make the waterway a safe place to work. It is the reason for the resilience we demonstrated with the pandemic,” Schmidt reflects on the adaptations the organization has faced since March 2020.

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