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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The Dance

Whenever I start working with somebody new – which is often because of both this line of work and being an apprentice – I notice the same pattern of sussing out “who – excactly – ARE you?” happening through conversation and non-verbal cues.

Some of the directly verbal questions that almost always come out are:

– What did you do before you decided to become an electrician?
– How old are you?
– Are you married? / How many kids do you have?
– Where did you grow up? / Where are you from?
– Where do you live?
– So…what made you decide to be an electrician?
– What does your partner/husband/significant other do?

Can you imagine asking some of these questions in such a point-blank manner to a fellow office worker? Read the rest of this entry »


The Break Up

Last week, I broke up with my electrical contractor. I need to see what other contractors offer and I want to look out for my best training interests.

My manager was pissed: I was punished for being the rat fleeing a sinking ship; or I was some kind of traitor because I wasn’t blithely waiting around. He called at the end of the day last Friday said, “I had work for you on Monday, but I heard you want to go to another shop. Which is it?” It felt like it was too late for me to accept bona fide electrical work from him. If he truly had a work assignment for me, I would have happily taken it. However, just the day before, he told me: 1) there wasn’t much on the horizon, but he’d let me know as soon as there was; 2) three other company apprentices were sitting out and waiting for work to pick up; 3) there were over 60 apprentices waiting for work through the training center; 4) the field is flooded with electricians right now because travelers are clamoring for a huge project in our area. He made it sound like I had no other choice but to stay loyal and wait. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Hook

This is the first week I’ve been “on the hook” and I don’t like it one bit. Work has slowed down to the point of my construction manager telling me, “We have no work for you, but we’ll call you as soon as something comes up.” Basically, I am receiving an unannounced furlough of indeterminate length or, through different lenses: unpaid vacation days. I like the sound of the latter much better. This is known as “staying on the hook” or “being on the hook”. Even though it would be easier and more comfortable to go with the flow and marry myself to this shop, I’m shaking myself outside my comfort zone and begging the apprentice training center to rotate me to a different contractor. Besides, I was never good at sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring! Read the rest of this entry »