Acapulco Pools drives positive workplace behaviour and practices to improve performance

December 5, 2017

By Nicole Oosterveld

Acapulco Pools' staff involved in achieving the Certificate of Recognition (COR).[1]
Acapulco Pools Ltd., in Kitchener, Ont., received its Certificate of Recognition (COR), a standard of safety excellence in Canada, from the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA).

In the construction industry, the Certificate of Recognition (COR™) has become a national benchmark for positive safety behaviours and performance. The program was initiated in the province of Alberta more than 20 years ago and is nationally trademarked and endorsed by participating members of the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations (CFCSA)[2] of which the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA)[3] is a member. It provides employers with an effective tool to assess their health and safety management system.

Acapulco Pools (Acapulco), a Kitchener, Ont.-based designer and builder of aquatic facilities, started its journey to achieve COR approximately three years ago when the certification started to gain momentum in Ontario.

For more than 40 years, the company has been one of the leaders in the construction of aquatic facilities throughout North America. Every year, management strives to improve the business, and its safety protocols were no exception. With only 193 companies being COR certified in Ontario, and more than 1000 companies registered and working towards the program, Acapulco was determined to be leaders in safety as well.

The Certificate of Recognition (COR) banner.[4]
The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) is the ‘Authority having Jurisdiction’ to grant the Certificate of Recognition (COR) in the province of Ontario. In achieving this national safety program accreditation in Ontario, IHSA is responsible to ensure the COR™ standards are upheld. With one common audit instrument used across Canada, the national standard is clear: minimum 65 per cent in each element and an overall audit score of 80 per cent.

At the end of the day, safety is the right thing to do. Acapulco wanted all of its worker’s to be confident, day in and day out, that they not only have a safe workplace, but also that their work has been planned with their safety in mind. The company wants all of its workers to return home to their families at the end of the day, and with that in mind, it was simple to aspire to achieve a certification that is understood to improve positive workplace behaviour and practices that lead to improved performance. Further, this was going to be one of the best ways to protect workers on the jobsite.

Safety is also good for business. Rightfully so, buyers of construction want the whole package and that includes safety. A safe jobsite is productive and profitable. As a result, more construction companies are including the COR program as a pre-qualification requirement. For instance, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the City of Toronto, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario use COR as a requirement to bid on large infrastructure projects in the province.

Just the same, discounting safety in construction is bad for business. Not having the right policies and procedures in place make companies vulnerable to losses by way of worker injuries, equipment or property damage, and potential penalties imposed as a result. Poor safety practices are often equated with general lack of care towards one’s work, which can also be a liability. By achieving COR, companies are able to demonstrate to buyers of construction they have a functioning safety program in place and thereby seen as an asset.

Determining where to start?

A few training courses were required before Acapulco could undergo the COR program, including an overview of the program, as well as a couple of auditing courses. These were integral to understanding the COR audit tool, which is important because the first audit provides baseline results and then essentially becomes a scoring guide for success. The company already had a functioning safety program in place that met the minimum requirements as set out in legislation, so it really was a matter of identifying the gaps and working towards closing them year after year.

Acapulco Pools has more than 60 crewmembers covering over five trades[5]
Acapulco Pools has more than 60 crewmembers covering over five trades, working on more than 65 jobs every year, which can range in length from two weeks to two years.

Since the COR audit tool has 19 separate elements, the first order of business after the initial assessment was determining how to organize the entire program. Acapulco has more than 60 crewmembers covering over five trades, working on more than 65 jobs every year, which can range in length from two weeks to two years. Being able to monitor and easily access the right documents, inspections, and reports was going to be critical to the company’s success in an audit situation.

After a fair amount of research and a couple of different demos, management agreed on a web-based construction safety software program that would not only house all of the company’s safety documentation, but also allow management and supervisors to complete his/her paperwork on a smartphone. Going digital was a major turning point, as all crew leads were provided tablets so he/she could complete their paperwork on an app that could be reviewed in real-time. This largely increased reporting and communication from the field to the office, as well as overall organization of the safety program framework.

One of the other major reasons for this decision, with this particular software, was its structure is actually meant to mimic the way the COR audit tool is set out. Acapulco was able to load all of its existing documentation and then update the status of each audit question to either non-compliant, in progress, compliant, or not started. As a result, the company was able to use its annual action plans in conjunction with this real-time feedback for each section of the audit to keep plugging away and updating the program to meet the COR standards.

What changes were made to each aspect of the business?

Acapulco started with a shift in safety culture, which meant all aspects of the business were adapted in to reach the end goal. The most visible changes happened on-site, but the changes made in the background were equally significant.

This was the first time the company had a full-time health and safety manager to oversee the entire safety program and provide support to the workplace. A budget was also allotted to the safety department to carry out the items in its action plan. Planning appropriately, sales and estimating started to carry numbers in their bids that would support a health and safety support system.

Pool professional power washing a pool surface.[6]
In terms of project planning, Acapulco Pools started to standardize the safety items and documents that were required at each job site, which set the tone for workers and their responsibilities on-site.

In terms of project planning, the company started to standardize the safety items and documents that were required at each jobsite, which set the tone for workers and their responsibilities on-site.

In the field, Acapulco started to identify critical tasks, as well as all of the other activities involved with building pools, and identify all of the risks and controls that were needed to carry out the work safely. As mentioned earlier, the change in how on-site paperwork was completed meant feedback on daily reports could be provided in real-time, instead of receiving daily paperwork weeks at a time.

At the labourer level, the company focused on investing in its employees and affording them the resources to attain goals set out on an annual basis. As a result, the company improved its job-specific training, as well as made its new worker orientation much more comprehensive. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was made more obtainable by using a vending machine system that all workers were given codes to access and chose from a range of PPE that best suited them and the work at hand for the day.

What challenges were faced and how were they overcome?

Pool professional tiling a pool surface.[7]
In terms of project planning, the company started to standardize the safety items and documents that were required at each jobsite, which set the tone for workers and their responsibilities on-site.

While the diverse nature of Acapulco’s workforce is one of its best attributes, it also posed challenges along the way. There is a wide range of knowledge and experience, technological ability, age, and comfort with English as a first language. When the company went digital, it allowed for a transition period to ensure all worker’s had time to adapt and learn the new software being presented. Providing additional support where needed, even if it meant giving training in a different format, or even in a different language, was important.

When there is change ahead, it concerns people who may be content with ‘the way things are.’ As Acapulco brought in new technologies and training, as well as new policies and procedures, the company knew it was going to take time for some people to accept the changes. During this time, the company was as transparent as possible and provided support in any way it could. Eventually most people came around and even admitted using the tablets was easier than the previous method for completing paperwork.

The need for perfection can bring progress to a halt. The audit tool can become quite overwhelming and, as a result, it is easy to focus on the numbers and reaching that 100 per cent. It is important to take an honest look at a company’s health and safety program when performing an audit and then set small, reasonable goals to make it to the finish line. Acapulco used its annual action plans to monitor progress year after year, and as it got closer to having all of the COR elements completed, it began to set weekly and monthly goals leading up to its submission. This allowed the company to finish an item thoroughly before moving on to the next step. After all, a company can never be perfectly safe and there is always room for improvement.

Making sure all employees were onboard with this goal

Acapulco Pools started with a shift in safety culture.[8]
Acapulco Pools started with a shift in safety culture, which meant all aspects of the business were adapted in to reach the end goal.

Acapulco quickly learned that to get genuine buy in from its employees, their input was integral. For this reason, all of the company’s safe work practices and procedures were developed by different trades alongside management, and reviewed by its joint occupational health and safety committee. It was important for Acapulco to use its most valuable resources, its workers, to ensure they had a safety program that works for them.

Having visible support from management was also important to get employee buy-in of the program and to reach the subsequent goal. The management team, from the onset, has lead by example and provided support on the administrative side and on the jobsite. In part, Acapulco started to hold supervisor workshops and made sure all site supervisors and workers had the training they needed to work safely.

Acapulco also likes to celebrate milestones and ensure positive behaviour is recognized, as this helps morale and promotes the safety culture. For instance, the company holds an annual start-up meeting that includes information about the year ahead, a safety re-orientation, and then a party that is open to all employees and their families. Acapulco also developed an incentive program that is safety based to reward and recognize exemplary safety actions and behaviours.

What does it mean to be COR certified?

Acapulco’s COR certification is a great feat. It has been a few years of hard work, dedication, and long hours for the entire team, and is a proud achievement for every employee. This author has had the pleasure to be part of this journey every step of the way and was thrilled to receive the news when the company obtained this standard of safety excellence in Canada. The team’s hard work, blood, sweat, and tears had finally paid off.

Many may think now that the company has this certification that it is time to lay back and relax; however, it is quite the opposite. The Acapulco team is dedicated to improvement and still has goals from its 2017 action plan that it wants to accomplish this year. While the COR certification is valid for three years, it involves a submission of an internal audit with all applicable documentation due on the anniversary date of the certification. This will be reviewed by a COR auditor and must be approved to remain in good standing. The auditor will also be looking for changes the company has implemented or areas where it has improved because of the recommendations made at the external audit.

Looking forward, Acapulco plans to apply for COR certification in other provinces, which means there is still some work ahead. Therefore, it is important for the company, at this time, to remain consistent, maintain current programs, and continue its forward progress.

Author’s note: Acapulco Pools thanks everyone who has contributed to safety in the workplace over the years, as well as those who played an integral role in preparing for the COR audit. This goal would not have been achievable without the hard work and dedication of all employees.

Nicole Oosterveld[9]Nicole Oosterveld is the health and safety manager for Acapulco Pools[10]. She oversees day-to-day safety on jobsites, in the office, and implements new safety policies, procedures, and training. Oosterveld holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology, sociology, and education, which made it an effortless transition for her into health and safety management. She can be reached via e-mail at[11].

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  3. Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA):
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