Safety: Beyond Buzzwords and Lectures

I’ve been at the same big project site for over a year now. Every week, we sit through two safety sessions: one presented by our general contractor to all the tradesworkers and one by our electrical shop. In both cases, the advice given has – at times – swerved from developing a work place safety culture to irrelevant intrusions into my personal time. I feel angry at the presumptive tone because I yearn for more site-relevant discussions such as: celebrations of weeks and months when the entire site has been incident-free and examples when we’ve properly and safely executed a milestone on the project. Or regular debriefings after a close call/near miss so that all of us can be reminded to stay focused and to continually assess our work environment. Also, I have the right to know when our customer has had chemical leaks affect their construction workers.

Instead, we’ve endured inane talking points such as: Read the rest of this entry »

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Heavy Trousers

Two weeks ago, I noticed a new pain and tightness running down the center of my lower back. The low back pain was freaking me out because I couldn’t pinpoint what was causing it. Last year, when I was seriously contemplating this career move, physical agility was – and still is – the forefront of my concerns. My body is now my most valuable tool and I can’t afford to injure it or mistreat it! I love working for an electrical shop who places a high priority on our morning stretch and flex routines. Yet I have let my personal maintenance slide. Our 10 hour work days have pulled me away from my typical gym and swimming routines: I’m simply too worn out by the end of the day to be as attentive as I was when working our standard eight hour days, and each day does not necessarily bring the exercise my body needs. I’m still getting about an hour’s worth of cardio and stretching work out (outside of work) three times a week. This back pain is a warning sign I will not ignore.

A couple days ago, while placing my favorite tools into my pants pockets, I had an “aha!” muscle twinge. The culprit seemed to be heavy trousers! Read the rest of this entry »


The Stand Down

The intense 10-hour days are wearing me down. I’m constantly exhausted: by the time I slog through the afternoon traffic (about 60 to 90 minutes to cover 21 miles), I have only a couple hours to myself before collapsing into bed. Time is the scarce commodity right now and I am greedy for more me time!

Today, we were sent home from the job site at 1:30pm. Since we start our days at 6:00am, it was only an eight hour day. Whooo-hoooo! An afternoon all to myself! I could barely contain my glee. Yet there was a dismal group vibe in the air. Over 300 of us were being walked off the site due to an accumulation of incidents. We were in “stand down” mode: a punishment from the general contractor who was basically saying to us, “No more work (or money) for you!” Politics and intensified stress have wormed into the scene: schedules and completion dates are tight. The drive to get it done is coming directly into conflict with safe practices. Read the rest of this entry »


Night and Day

After undergoing yet another whiz quiz, 18 hours of company and site-specific training and donning at least five types of security badges, I started work with a new crew. It’s a completely different world. My new site is one of the largest in the region: so large that the trades workers have created their own temporary city. Our parking lot is larger (and dustier) than a CostCo parking lot. The capacity of our lunch and break area is just under 2,000 people. My first morning was surreal because I had to find my foreman amongst a bustle of identically colored hard hats and orange vests. It was like a social easter egg hunt. People were pretty helpful when I explained it was my very first morning on site, and now – a couple weeks into this new gig – I trade small talk with the now-familiar faces who helped me that first morning Read the rest of this entry »


Pack Your Own Parachute

I’m about four months old as a first term electrician apprentice and so far, I’ve experienced six different job sites and at least 18 fellow electricians (most of whom are experienced journeywomen/journeymen). I’m grateful to my shop’s construction manager for shifting me around like this because I’m getting a good taste of work styles, material lay-out and personality types. Also, I get really nervous when arriving to a new job and new crew and being moved around like this has helped me relax and gain confidence when jumping into a new site.

Most journeymen (journeywomen) have been really generous with their advice.  One thing I hear frequently – and it surprises me – is, “You are responsible for your own safety!”  Read the rest of this entry »