Timing, opportunity, a can-do spirit, and mentorship — that was the winning combination that propelled Louise Caicco Tett from a career in nursing to entrepreneurship.
The Sault Ste. Marie resident is the founder and owner of Health & Safety Professionals Inc. (HSPI), a firm offering training, policy writing, workplace hazard assessments, and other consulting services, all aimed at helping companies beef up their health and safety culture.
Though she now deals heavily in the legislative side of the business, nursing remains a strong component of the firm's everyday work, Caicco Tett said.
“The nursing leads so much of the business. Not your typical bedside nursing, but the thought process, the prevention side, the people side, the public health side — that’s what makes our company different than many of the typical safety businesses that come from a construction focus or an engineering focus,” she said.
“This one has nursing embedded in it all around.”
Caicco Tett’s path to entrepreneurship began more than two decades ago while on maternity leave from her job as a public health nurse with the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit, which serves a catchment area south of Ottawa.
She was back living in the Sault when she learned that the health unit was downsizing. It could have been bad news, but her employer had in place a voluntary exit program that provided participants with funding for retraining, and a mentor encouraged her to consider it.
“I had expressed some interest in doing my own thing and being my own boss and creating a life around my work as opposed to having someone else dictate what I do day to day,” Caicco Tett said. “So it took all of those things, really, to come together, and then I jumped in.”
She set out learning everything she could about health and safety legislation and workplace protocols, canvassing those in the industry and cultivating new relationships with experts who could guide her in the right direction.
Those early mentors were “so giving and gracious of their time,” she said, and helped prime her for success.
With her newfound skills and knowledge in tow, she then had to create a business plan that would make her new venture viable.
“I had to find something that sells, and workplaces aren’t going to pay for a wellness clinic, or a blood pressure clinic, which is what I was used to in public health,” she said.
“So I needed to dig in and learn the legislation and what was it that people paid for.”
For her first big project, she developed a training program that teaches workplace Joint Health and Safety Committees to develop schedules, inspection and reporting forms, and documentation policies. She’s now been offering the program for more than two decades.
Caicco Tett said it gets her foot in the door, and from there she works on building relationships with clients to determine what other training they may need.
Over the last 24 years, Caicco Tett and her team have been recognized as a go-to source for quality health and safety training in the Sault and across the Algoma District, which has garnered her a number of industry accolades.
Caicco Tett has been nominated for the Volunteer Award of Merit by the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (which evolved into Workplace Safety & Prevention Services) multiple times, winning the Northern Ontario distinction in 2002 and the Sault Ste. Marie Chapter Award in 2008.
In 2020, Health & Safety Professionals Inc. won the Customer First Award from the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, and a year later, the chamber named the company Business of the Year (1-9 employees). That same year, the company was recognized as a 5-Star Safety Trainer by Canadian Occupational Safety, with Caicco Tett receiving the 5-Star Safety Trainer Award.
Most recently, Caicco Tett was recognized as a Top Woman in Safety by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.
Humbled at being highlighted on a list of what she called “some amazing women,” Caicco Tett insisted the achievements come thanks to her mentors and educators, her colleagues, and the customers who have believed in her.
“All of that has to come together to end up with that kind of recognition,” she said. “It’s not a solo affair.”
The momentum Caicco Tett had built up through her career came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit in 2020.
As workplaces across the province rapidly shut down, a flood of phone calls and emails arrived cancelling scheduled training sessions, a “devastating” turn for her business, which had a full spring booked, Caicco Tett said.
But care and compassion for her community drove her to keep going.
When she realized the pandemic was going to last more than just a few weeks, she began checking in with clients to see what she could do to help, in some cases completing safety plans for free to get them on the right track.
She also sat as co-chair of the Algoma Vaccination Support Council, a local initiative that arose out of a desire to support the local business community through the pandemic.
Meeting weekly, the council focused on sharing the latest information about the pandemic and promoting COVID-19 vaccination, as well as assisting with vaccination clinics hosted by small businesses.
Through community fundraising, the council collected $80,000 to purchase lunches for the health-care staff working the clinics, with meals coming from local restaurants that had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
After two years of uncertainty, clients have returned with a renewed commitment to health and safety. Business has doubled for Health & Safety Professionals Inc., and Caicco Tett forecasts it will double again within two years.
She's gone from the sole full-time employee to one of three, including one contract position, and her staff is rounded out by three part-timers and a complement of regular contractors. This year, she's also bringing on four summer students whose energy, enthusiasm and new ideas have been "transformative," Caicco Tett said.
Like so many, she's had to learn to deliver her programming in a new format — in-class delivery quickly moved online — but the learning curve has been worth it, as it’s opened her company up to an entirely new clientele.
“Now our classroom is not physically in Sault Ste. Marie; our classroom is now in Ontario, which is massive,” she said.
“That has made us look at the company in a whole new light. We’re not a Sault Ste. Marie company or an Algoma company; now we’re an Ontario company, and now we’re looking to grow it.”