Throwback Thursday – Canadian Pacific Railway

When the Canadian Pacific railway was built in 1881, safety was not even a thought. The workers had deplorable working conditions, disease ran rampant and it has been said that two men died for every mile that was built. The CPR at the time was 2920 miles. That’s an estimated 5000 men that died over a 4 year project. This right here is why we have safety today. Sites strive for zero incidents and definitely zero deaths which is very achievable. Take your time, do it safely every time. Make sure your not a statistic down the road.

Hand Signals

When it comes to rigging I’m kind of a geek. I once pulled my family over while in the U.S. to watch a huge lift. They are fascinating, there is so much that goes into these lifts. Whether pulling a small piece of pipe to your station with an overhead crane, or a crazy lift on site, hand signals are a must.

Make sure you know them if you’re participating in the lift. If you’re unsure, sit this one out and observe, don’t participate until you are confident with them. Make sure all workers communicate a review of the hand signals before they begin the lift. Pick one signal person. When doing signals, do them slowly and exaggerated, make sure the operator can see you clearly. Do a distinct move to show a signal is over before starting a new one. As for the operator, never respond to an unclear signal. And always remember that a “stop” signal is to be followed, no matter who gives it.

There is so much more to these lifts than just hand signals and if you want to be more than a spectator like me on the side of the road, take our rigging course, learn the in’s and out’s and be a confident participant in some amazing lifts.

Fire Watch

Once working as a second year welder I picked up a quick gig at a lumber mill shut down, doing maintenance welds. Obviously welding and a place covered in wood is an incident waiting to happen. We did all the appropriate permits and lockouts etc; but when it came to a fire watch, I got the short stick. The worker that was to be my watch decided that he was going to get double time to sleep in his truck. So he would place the fire hose close by and off he would go. I was still pretty green (a brand new second year) and too scared to voice my concern. So I struck an arc and did my job. Well until I had to stop to go put out some small fires. Yes I’m serious! This really happened. Think about that… It was a lumber mill people! The whole thing could have gone up in flames. There are so many things wrong with what happened that day. No fire watch meant no pre-work inspections, no one to extinguish it, pull the alarm or call for emergency services if it did get out of hand. To top it off, I was left alone. Let me tell you… I found my voice at the end of that day and got a new watch the next day. That’s why there is training for fire watch, so you know what steps to take to mitigate the hazards as much as possible.

The responsibilities of the fire watch include, keeping a lookout for the hazards, potential fires and fires, extinguishing fires, following procedures if a fire occurs (pulling the alarm or calling emergency crew, your permit will outline this), following the permit, doing  pre-work inspections on all fire fighting equipment (makes sure it’s in good working order and tags are up to date), doing a final inspection at day’s end to make sure nothing is burning or could lead to a fire, stay in communication with other workers at all times and never leave your station unless you get an equally trained worker to take over for you.

Being a fire watch doesn’t mean you get a day off of “real” work. There are huge responsibilities that come with the task. Take it seriously, people are counting on you.

New on the Job

No matter how long you’ve been in the trades or how experienced you are, we’ve all been the new guy/girl on site, stuck wearing the green lid and hearing the term “green as grass” on the daily. Being new to site can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to safety . There are a few things we can do as experienced tradespeople to help the newbies make their way…and do so safely.

First off, when they ask questions, answer them, no matter how mindless it seems to you. When I was new, I once asked what a certain type of wrench looked like…I will not divulge what kind I’m talking about because you will think a monkey is writing this. Point being, at the time I had no experience or knowledge, I needed to learn. So help them with what they are inquiring about or struggling with because alternatively they will try to figure it out on their own and could end up getting hurt or hurting somebody else.

If you see a newbie doing something unsafe, please, stop and show them how to do it correctly and explain why an incident could have occurred. This will help them learn. Think how awful you would feel if they got hurt and you could have prevented it. You have a due diligence to speak up if you see something unsafe. Speaking of due diligence, teach them about it. Just because they’re new doesn’t mean they can’t spot an incident in the making. Even though they may be timid about pointing it out, it is their responsibility.

There’s always a level of camaraderie on work sites and a time and place for jokes, at the newbie’s expense, especially if they don’t know what a crescent wrench looks like (okay, okay it was a crescent wrench, how embarrassing). When it comes to safety, there are no jokes. So take the time to help the newcomer along. Don’t forget you’re working with them, so it’s your safety as well!



Whether you’ve done the same job for the past 20 years or just the past 2 hours, complacency can lead you to a false sense of safety. Being in your comfort zone and having thoughts like “I’ve never had an accident” or “I could do this with my eyes closed” leads to skipped steps, missed hazards and ultimately injury or death. There are few things you can do to lower your risk of growing complacent on the work site.

Tool box talks. These talks aren’t designed to kill a half hour every morning at your employer’s expense. These are designed to keep you aware and remind you of hazards that you see everyday. Make sure you listen and focus. Just because you’ve done the job this way a hundred times, doesn’t mean it’s safe to do so this time. Things change and you need to adapt constantly.

Change the routine. The exact same routine is a key ingredient in complacency. Switch it up! If you can, every now and then, do your afternoon tasks in the morning and do your morning tasks in the afternoon. Even a small change in your routine can help you stay alert.

Observation. Just take 2 minutes out of your day to stop, look around and observe what other workers are doing. This can help you realize what you’re doing! Most sites have observation cards to be filled out daily for this exact reason. If they don’t, take it upon yourself to do so, it’s your safety after all.

Focus. This one’s easier said than done. Take time to do your pre-work inspections, read the safety signs at work, go over instructions. Do what you need to do to stay focused to do the job properly.

Don’t count on things to stay the same, especially with your safety. Make sure you’re alert and focused at all times, because hazards don’t take breaks.

H2S Safety Training (Sneak Peek)

Here’s a sneak peek at our H2S safety training online course soon to be released. Stay tuned for more safety video previews and information as to when the entire suite of new safety courses goes live.

PPE Overload

Safety glasses, gloves, respirator, hard hat, long sleeves, welding lid, knee pads, traction aid, ear plugs the list goes on and on. Sometimes donning your PPE can feel like a Stormtrooper gearing up to save the death star. In every trades person’s career, there will be times when you may get the urge to take something off for just a second, not realizing that it only takes a second for an injury to occur. Three days into a new job as a second year welding apprentice, I took my gloves off to put colored tape on something I just inspected and I sliced my thumb pretty bad. My foreman was standing right there and off to first aid I went. I ended up getting written up for taking my gloves off. At the time I was furious. But now looking back, it was a lesson well learned. Something more serious could have happened to me. Whether your respirator is too bulky under your welding lid, your safety glasses don’t look cool, or your gloves are bunchy, make sure you keep ALL of your PPE on to protect yourself. Even if you do happen to look like a Stormtrooper.

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion

The summer months are coming up and that means extreme temperatures. Which is great when you’re relaxing by a pool with a bevy; but when you’re working a physical job loaded with PPE, the novelty wears off pretty quick. Especially considering that heat exhaustion has some pretty scary symptoms and heat stroke can lead to death. Know the difference between the two and the symptoms to prevent any heat related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion has symptoms that can come out of nowhere. They include a crazy amount of sweating but skin is cool to the touch, faint feeling or dizziness, muscle cramps, dark colored urine (yes we are talking about pee right now), exhaustion (as per the name), headache, nausea and elevated heart rate. If not treated this could lead to heat stroke. Get out of the sun, go in the shade or better yet find air conditioning if you can. Drink a ton of water, elevate your feet and if you’re in a PPE free zone, strip off as much as you can to cool yourself.

Heat stroke takes heat exhaustion to the next level and is a medical emergency. Heat stroke can cause your temperature to reach 104°F or more! With symptoms that include difficulty breathing, absence of sweat, skin is dry to the touch, convulsions, fainting and unconsciousness, vomiting, diarrhea and an altered mental state. Some of your organs can even start to shut-down at these temperatures which can lead to brain damage and death. Call 911. While waiting for an emergency crew, cool the person as much as possible, take off clothing, spray with cool water, put ice packs or cold cloths under their armpits. Get them to drink if they are conscious and administer CPR if they stop breathing.

Thankfully both of these are completely preventable. Dress lightly… Now I guarantee that you won’t get the OK from your foreman to strip down to shorts and sandals. But, you can wear light colors, and not tight clothes (but not too loose either, that can be a different safety hazard), somewhere in the middle. Drink plenty of fluids. Try and stay away from sugary and caffeinated beverages. Watch the color or your urine (yes, we are talking about your pee again). The color should be clear or very light. If it’s a bit dark, you are dehydrated. Get some fluids in you as soon as possible. Take small breaks out of the sun. This doesn’t mean find a shady spot and relax all day… Your foreman definitely won’t OK this either. Take small breaks in the shade or somewhere that has AC. Lastly, always wear sunscreen.

With temperatures on the rise every year and the death toll rising with it, make sure you know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke and do your best to prevent them, whether by the pool or on the job site.

Scaffold Safety

Scaffolding isn’t just put up by anyone, it’s erected by people trained to do it professionally and then thoroughly inspected. Scaffolding changes frequently, so here’s a few do’s and don’ts.

Always check the inspection tag. It’s located on the ladder of the entrance and any other point of entry. Check to make sure the inspection is up to date. A red tag is unsafe for use, do not enter under any circumstance. If it’s missing this tag, don’t use the scaffold and tell your foreman. A yellow tag will tell you everything you need to know. The last time it was inspected, by whom, when it expires, the duty rating, and any risk factors to watch out for.

Make sure to never climb the ladder with your hands or pockets full of tools. You’re more likely to fall if you don’t have 3 points of contact on the ladder which is impossible with a mit full of tools. Putting something in your pocket may seem like a good idea, till it falls out (which it will) and hits the person below you. Always use a tool hoist to bring tools up and back down. Make sure not to leave them on the scaffolding.

Scaffolding is not a jungle gym, so don’t treat it like one. The fixed ladder is for climbing and nothing else. So climbing the railings is unacceptable. You’re not a monkey. Follow the rules.

Modifications should be left to the professionals. Sometimes a scaffold tube is way too close to the weld you have to do or the tubing you need to run, whatever the reason may be, you cannot do the modification. Talk to your foreman, he/she will get in touch with the scaffolders so they can do it correctly. This isn’t the easiest or quickest process, so really make sure you can’t do the task at hand without the mod. This is why they have mirrors for welding.

Always make sure the platform is safe. Even if the tag says everything looks good, there could be hazards to watch out for. Mud, ice, snow and debris. If you need to shovel a deck then do so, do what you need to make it safe for you and your co-workers. Your safety is up to you, don’t monkey around.

The Right Tool for the Job 

Always use the right tool for the job. That’s a phrase you’ll hear on every site, yet most people will cut corners. Even though you think you’re saving time by using the wrong tool to get the task at hand done quickly, you’re actually causing yourself more work and more problems… A lot more problems!

First off, you are at least doubling the amount of effort you need to put in. Think about it, if you’re using a screwdriver to hammer something in, you will be there forever. Not to mention the amount of force your body will have to put in. There is a good chance you’ll end with an injury after all that unnecessary grunt work.

Then there is cost… The cost of breaking the tool you were using, the property damage to what you were working on and the cost of getting someone else to redo the job properly. Also the embarrassment when they get a first year to fix your work!

Always take the time to get the proper tool for what you’re working on.  If your employer doesn’t have it, it’s their responsibility to find you what you need. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never rig something up. Every job has a tool designed specifically for it, so use it and stay safe and problem free… Got 99 problems and the wrong tool ain’t one.