For safety’s sake, don’t walk by

May 7, 2015 Lindsay Van Noortwyk

By Lindsay Van Noortwyk

Safety isn’t always comfortable—it’s crucial


When I started as a field scientist, it seemed like my job was to fill out forms. Particularly safety forms. They seemed infinite. Now as a project manager, I know these forms are more than just a formality. They are about keeping a consistent standard in our industry, and keeping our communities safe. As pointed out during this North American Occupational Safety and Health Week (May 3-9), these forms are about emphasizing teamwork, being aware of your surroundings, and, most of all, leading by example.

All of this came to the forefront last June when my colleague Patrick Jordan and I were walking down Jasper Avenue in Edmonton to grab some lunch. On the way, we passed a colleague from another consulting company conducting a subsurface soil investigation in a parking lot. The team had a truck-mounted drilling rig with two contractors and the consultant. The consultant had his back to everyone else at the tailgate of his truck, logging soil and preparing samples. The rig operator was fiddling with his equipment, and the helper was sitting on an overturned bucket near the entrance to the parking lot.

The lot was still open, and traffic was going in and out on this beautiful summer afternoon. The work area was not delineated or blocked off, and none of the workers were paying attention to their surroundings—they were busy doing their work.

I distinctly remember walking by and thinking “Oh man, if those were my people we would have problems.”

Then I stopped. I looked at Patrick. We realized it didn’t matter if they were our people or not. We have a responsibility to our industry and the communities we serve to make sure safety is a priority.

Neither of us really wanted to intervene. Approaching a total stranger to poke holes in their professional judgment was terrifying, and we didn’t want to look like know-it-alls. But the thought of walking by and hearing on the news later that someone had been hurt or killed in a parking lot off Jasper Avenue was even scarier. So we turned around and went back.

I waved the driller’s helper over and politely asked to speak to his consultant. I think they were expecting the worst—when the consultant arrived, I think he was more nervous than we were.

We explained to him why he should delineate his work area. We pointed out the hazards of the cars coming in and out of the parking lot. He said he didn’t have any caution tape or traffic cones, so Patrick called our nearest office and arranged to have some delivered.

On our way back from lunch, we passed the area again. They delineated their work area with survey flagging tape. They were all standing within it, the helper was watching for traffic, and Patrick and I felt relieved.

That day happened to be our client’s, Shell Canada Products, international safety “stand down” (which they call Shell Safety Day), and we mentioned our experience on Jasper Avenue. In mid-March, Shell Canada announced that we had won their Annual Health and Safety and Social Performance Award.

This is just one example of the increased focus on safety, not only for consulting companies like Stantec, but for our clients as well. My clients are recognizing safety leaders when they come to job sites to audit our field work, the same as we do within our company. As a result, hazards that we wouldn’t have even picked up on before are being identified and mitigated on a regular basis.

With NAOSH Week coming to a close, it’s important to share stories like this one, to make sure safety forms and protocols don’t just become a chore, like I viewed them early in my career. They’re critical to making sure our friends, colleagues, and all members of our communities get home safe at the end of the day.

About the Author

Lindsay Van Noortwyk is a project manager in the environmental services team based in our Edmonton office.

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