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SMU Hosts World’s First Professorship In Safety Culture

Saint Mary’s University’s CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is now home to the first-ever professorship in safety culture. Thanks to an ongoing partnership with CN Rail, Dr. Mark Fleming will bring his 20 years of international research experience to work with industry partners to highlight the importance of safety culture.
“The CN Professorship will allow me to develop practical tools and strategies to enhance safety culture,” said Dr. Fleming. “Increasingly we see industries identifying the need to improve their safety culture but struggling with what to do in practice. They want to know what to do, so we will provide a bit of a road map—ideas that can be implemented and adapted over time.” While CN will provide what Dr. Fleming describes as a “living laboratory”, the professorship will build long-term partnerships with other industries trying to improve their safety culture.

Dr. Fleming will be based at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, though he will continue to collaborate with industries and fellow academics around the globe. Dr. Fleming began his career working with the offshore oil and gas industry in the North Sea and through his various research projects he has seen safety culture best practices evolve in different parts of the world.

“This professorship is great news,” said Monica Haage, Safety Officer, Division of Nuclear Installation Safety, International Atomic Energy Agency. “I hope this makes it possible for greater collaboration. The nuclear industry and other high reliability organizations need more research in the area of safety culture.”

“While there’s lots of work in measurement, there is less being done in testing and evaluating which interventions work,” said Dr. Fleming. “For that you need close collaboration with various industry partners where you’re able to act over a long period of time and compare results.”

The study of safety culture has gained momentum in recent years as governments and industry respond to events such as the Cougar helicopter crash in Newfoundland and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “Since the Chernobyl disaster we have learned a lot about what doesn’t work, but we now have an evidence-based approach to see which interventions actually make a difference,” said Dr. Fleming.

In Nova Scotia, the recent provincial strategy lists safety culture improvement as one of its strategic goals. “When Nova Scotians move from knowing about safety to caring about safety, we elevate the culture of workplace safety,” said Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia.

“All the safety programs being marketed in the world today will not assure an organization of a positive safety culture,” said Harris McNamara, Director of Safety at Emera, “that takes people and commitment by all levels of an organization, over time. Dr. Fleming’s work to understand and develop tools to assist in creating/improving safety culture will be invaluable.”

The five-year professorship will leverage Saint Mary’s existing expertise in safety culture and build a strong team of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to develop and test safety culture strategies.

The professorship comes with funding for two industry-level conferences where practitioners and academics in safety culture will have the opportunity to learn from global experts. The first conference is planned for 2014, with the second conference slated for 2016.

About the CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

The CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety was created as a centre of research excellence within Saint Mary’s University in 2002 following a generous donation from Canadian National Rail Company.  Comprised primarily of faculty members—including three Canada Research Chairs—and graduate students, the Centre’s objective is to build research capacity within the field of occupational health and safety including occupational health psychology.