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Fort Hills branch

700,000 Hours Lost-Time-Injury Free

Bolder, Wiser, Safer

Bolder, Wiser, Safer

Safety is top of mind for most industries, especially in the world of heavy equipment. But it’s not just about compliance and checking off boxes—nudging the status quo, opening conversation, and evolving processes to engage absolutely everyone creates a safer, more empowered environment.

“This 700,000-hour milestone goes back to the start of our branch,"says Nigel Vanderkooi, Operations Manager. "Funnily enough, it took us about seven years to hit that number, and it means since our start we’ve never sent anyone home injured. Our people have gone home to their families, lived their lives, with no impact of injury.” 
Big Hours are a Big Deal

Big Hours are a Big Deal

The team believes this milestone shows consistency and persistence as a branch. “We keep pushing through, making sure we’re doing right by our employees and each other, working together towards one common goal,” says Adam Schneider, Field Supervisor.

Tom Adamson, Heavy Equipment Technician, vouches for that. Safety is the first thing on his mind when he comes to the door every morning. Even with various contractors in the building, “it’s something that everyone talks about and thinks about,” he says.

“I think that’s why we’ve had the results we’ve had,” adds Nigel. “It’s not just one group pushing for this—everyone is pursuing the same goal.”

After all, it’s the people who do the work who are looking out for each other.

“The truth is, most of us don’t like to be away from the families to come do this, so we have our own little family,” says Adam. “When we’re away from our loved ones a week or two at a time, we must create a strong support system—because it’s all we have up here.

”The team focuses on a high level of accountability, which goes both up and down the ladder. “No matter your role, anyone is encouraged to bring up issues and hold us accountable for action and improvements. It always goes both ways; it’s give and take,” says Adam.

In turn, that leads to constructive criticism, or as the team likes to say, “respectful interventions.”

“You can actually talk to someone who will listen and take you seriously,” says Tom. “Knowing that someone is open to your ideas and understands that we’re all just looking to improve is huge!”

State of the Spark

State of the Spark

In late December, the branch realized they had hit the 700,000 hours marker and commemorated it with milestone jackets. Like backing a favourite sports team, there is a strong sense of pride. “We’re proud to show our branch,” says Nigel. “It’s about camaraderie and support.”

When looking to future goals, Adam considers that very carefully. “You don’t want to look too far out,” he says. “We need to look right in front of us. The thing with safety is whether you’re doing it correctly or not; the outcome could be the same. Just because you have no incidents, does that mean you’re doing it correctly? That’s why it’s important to us to focus on the now—taking it day by day, shift by shift. We do our FLHAs and our hazard assessments, and our respectful interventions. Everything is step by step.”

The milestone matters, but it isn’t the focus.

“Getting everyone home safely at the end of their shift is our number one,” says Nigel. “It’s getting through each individual job safely. It’s looking out for each other. We’ll continue to hit these milestones, but without them being our goal.” 

All in for Action

At Fort Hills, power comes in the form of follow-through. “If teams are coming to us and seeing we’re not doing anything about it, then we don’t get buy-in for the system,” says Adam. “It comes down to doing right by our people by implementing action as efficiently as possible.”

Daily participation tells the real story. “Our submissions aren’t checkboxes,” says Nigel. “People put thought into it, and that makes a difference. We put major effort into the review, follow-up, and feedback. It goes full circle to result in a safer workplace for the group.”

When the branch has new hires, this often starts with something like, “Saw rag on floor, picked up rag, was a tripping hazard.” With practice, it eventually evolves into something more like, “Saw contractor performing task in an unsafe manner”—which leads into an intervention.

“The system tends to start off basic, but as people gain confidence in the program, it builds into what really matters,” says Adam.

Safety Isn’t a Bad Word

Sometimes, the culture of safety gets a “watchdog” reputation. Not here.

“We’re not out to ‘get anybody’—we’re here to get people home safely and come up with new ideas to do that better,” says Adam.

“I feel like we’re always heard,” adds Tom. “That means the most to me.”

It doesn’t matter who it is, but if someone thinks of a better way to get a task done or a suggestion to make the program better, the team is all ears. “Great solutions can come from absolutely anyone—especially the people on the floor who live our safety culture every day,” says Adam. “There’s always follow through and we’re proud of that, even if it means a compromise or a different solution.”

"To make safety great, there is no single defining action or turning-point moment. Instead, the process is small, consistent action, until a point of 700,000 LTI-free hours—and beyond."
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