Safety is not just for NAOSH Week

May 13, 2022

Every year, the first week of May is recognized as North American Occupational Health and Safety (NAOSH) Week, when employers, employees, partners, and the public highlight the importance of preventing injuries and illness at work, at home and in the community. But safety is not just important one week of the year. When working on a shipyard, it is critical that safety is top of mind every day.

Cherienne Whitson is the Senior Manager of Health and Safety for Seaspan Shipyards, where everyday she helps plan and execute the Health and Safety Management system across Seaspan’s three shipyards; Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver Drydock, Victoria Shipyards.

What are some of the unique aspects of ensuring safety in a shipyard environment?

Being responsible for the safety of more than 2,700 employees who are working on a diverse range of projects at three separate shipyards is both challenging and rewarding. We have a mix of administrative, engineering, skilled trades, and operations teams working to support a range of shipyard services, from building new ships, to repair and modernization.  

The nature of the work within the shipyards poses a number of potential hazards, such as the use of heavy equipment and cranes, hot work (welding and grinding, which both bring a risk of fire), work in confined spaces and even diving activities.

What have you learned from a health and safety perspective from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of having a holistic health and safety program, incorporating health, work, and wellness. We have increased the safety team’s focus on aspects of a healthy workplace not commonly emphasized in heavy industrial workplaces, like the importance of office and industrial ergonomics, mental health and active living. Health and Safety does not stop when you leave the office or the shipyard. 

What is the safety culture at Seaspan Shipyards?

Our safety culture is based on a shared commitment to health and safety that extends across every level of the organization, from the apprentice to the CEO . Everyone at Seaspan plays a role in creating a culture of safety that we can all be proud of.

Our core value of Safety is realized when our employees come together as adaptive problem solvers to ensure work at Seaspan is executed safely, reliably, and productively in our complex work environment.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing everyone go home safe at the end of the shift – having that feeling that by doing my job well, I’ve helped the teams on the ground do their jobs. For example, I recently participated in the LNG conversion project at Victoria Shipyards. Members of the safety team from all three shipyards worked together to support our operations team during the vessel’s docking period. Victoria Shipyards received the highest score ever awarded by the insurance surveyor for a conversion project.   

As well, Seaspan’s working relationship with WorkSafeBC continues to provide opportunities to improve technical and cultural initiatives. The new confined space continuous atmospheric monitoring system, at Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards, is an example of collaborative solutions to reducing risk.  

When I see people learning from each other, empowered, and bringing forward new ideas to improve health and safety, then I know that we are making a difference here at the shipyards and in the community.