Kitchener-Waterloo

'It's an honour,' as Kitchener small business named safest, healthiest in Ontario

Kitchener-based small business — Brick and Co. Restorations Ltd — has been named the safest and healthiest in Ontario, winning the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Award for 2020.

Brick and Co. Restorations Ltd has been in business for 32 year and has 45 employees

Don Zehr and Michaela Zehr. Their company Brick and Co. Restorations Ltd has been named the safest and healthiest in Ontario, winning the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's (WSIB) Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Award for 2020. (Submitted by Michaela Zehr)

Kitchener-based small business — Brick and Co. Restorations Ltd — has been named the safest and healthiest in Ontario, winning the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's (WSIB) Small Business Health and Safety Leadership Award for 2020

Owner Don Zehr says the company, which has been in business for 32 years, specializes in concrete and masonry restoration, or repair projects ranging from apartment complexes, businesses and parking garages.

He welcomed the award and said the $5,000 prize money would be used to do something special for the company's 45 employees.

"It's an honour. We didn't know what to expect but we do take precautions and do what we have to do to keep our people safe so we recognize it as an honour," Zehr told CBC News.

"We often try to do, each year, different things with and for our people that work here, so we'll often do a golf tournament. We always have a Christmas party, and that of course this year has been shut down, so our plan is to hopefully do something special next year with the money — a group event."

'We didn't know what to expect but we do take precautions and do what we have to do to keep our people safe so we recognize it as an honour,' Don Zehr said on winning the award. (Submitted by Michaela Zehr)

This marks the fourth year the WSIB has awarded the Small Business Health and Safety Leadership prize to a business with fewer than 50 employees.  A total of 76 businesses registered to enter this year.

Another layer of challenge

This year's awards are recognizing Ontario's small businesses that demonstrated exemplary health and safety during the pandemic and went the extra mile to keep their employees and customers safe.

"[COVID-19] has definitely added another layer of challenge to what we already do that has its own abundance of health and safety hazards involved with it," the company's health and safety compliance coordinator Michaela Zehr told CBC News.

"It adds an extra layer onto that. We don't go into too many units for the most part but when we do we take those extra steps to make sure that everyone is staying safe, so making sure that our workers are wearing their masks and gloves if necessary and trying to avoid being in people's faces if they can. 

"We also make sure that we have daily screening … to ensure they are good to go for the day," she added.

WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer said the board has had a very strong focus on health and safety.

Strong focus on health and safety

WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer said the board has had a very strong focus on health and safety. 

"We are trying to do everything we possibly can to reduce the number of injuries, illness and fatalities in the workplace," Witmer told CBC News.

"We are aware that certainly when it comes to small businesses there are significant injuries, illness and fatalities, and so in order to focus on those businesses where they don't really have someone often who is in a position to act as the health and safety specialist, we decided that we would initiate this award."

Witmer said the initiative gives the WSIB an opportunity to see what small businesses in the province are doing in terms of health and safety.

It is also hoped that the award would serve as an inspiration, a model and example for other small businesses as to what they could do as well in order to make their workplaces safer and healthier.

"We really have been pleasantly surprised and thrilled at the number of businesses who have either self-identified or been recommended by someone else because of what they're doing in their workplaces to make them healthy and safe," Witmer said.

"I'm thrilled that there are so many people working so hard; and when it comes to small businesses we have to remember too that the owner of most of these small businesses would be the individual who initiates the action and then of course the employees become involved and help with the execution.

"So we just hope that these small businesses and all that they've undertaken will serve as a model that other small businesses can duplicate their efforts to make sure their workplaces and employees are safe," Witmer added.

With files from Kate Bueckert

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