Ground Water Canada

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Safety pitfalls and best practices

Prevention and health and safety management

August 21, 2018  By Carolyn Camiller

“You have to have a health and safety program that reflects the type of work you do,” says Paul Casey, vice-president of programs and strategic development for Ontario’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA). Photo: Fotolia by Adobe Stock

The weather – that favourite Canadian conversation topic – is more than idle chatter when you work outside 12 months of the year. Whether it’s January’s arctic chill or July’s scorching heat, blizzard conditions or torrential downpours, weather-related hazards are common issues.

“In the winter time, there is the potential for more physical hazards to occur, like slips and falls,” says Ellaline Davies, president of Safety Works Consulting, which provides customized safety training for companies and often works directly with the Ontario Ground Water Association. “In the summer time, heat stress is a big one — not heat stroke but heat stress — so making sure people are hydrated appropriately is important.”

While ensuring workers are adequately dressed to prevent frostbite is critical in the winter, Davies says, on hot summer days, it’s more about ensuring workers stay dressed. Dispensing with layers of clothing and personal protection equipment can be very tempting as temperatures rise.


Other nature-related safety issues arise when accessing drilling sites and dealing with varying terrain, especially during rig setup. Moreover, well workers often work alone in remote, rugged areas.

“If you are going into a remote area, do make sure either the homeowner is there or, if it is a project for a consultant, they have someone there,” Davies says, emphasizing that the worker or property owner must also have some reliable method of communicating with the outside world in case of an emergency.

With respect to rig equipment, preventive maintenance is key to avoiding problems. “Don’t wait for something to go wrong on the rig before you do something about it,” Davies says. “And don’t ignore things like fluid drips or cables showing signs of wear.”

Although the safety data sheet for bentonite — a.k.a. drilling mud or absorbent phyllosilicate clay — says no protective equipment is needed under normal use conditions, Davies recommends gloves and, on windy days, a mask and goggles. Airborne clay dust can be irritating to the eyes, skin, nasal passages and throat.

But awareness of common pitfalls only scratches the surface of staying safe. You should have a proper health and safety management system in place.

“And there are plenty of options available,” says Davies, who is an auditor for WorkWell, COR, WSIB HSMS Review and OHSAS 18001.

For example, Ontario’s WSIB Safety Groups program, which has a rebate system. “WSIB also runs the small business program — it’s about six weeks long,” she says.

Smaller businesses are sometimes at a disadvantage because of the cost of some health and safety management systems, and they may not have the staff to manage them. “But not everyone needs a sophisticated health and safety management system, and there are lots of online products available that deal with less paperwork and have the information readily available.”

“The first thing to do is go to your local ground water association and find out the legal requirements, because requirements may vary from province to province,” Davies says.

Once you have the legal requirements in place, you can build a system based on your specific needs.

“You have got to have a health and safety management system that works for your business, not for the guy up the street,” says Davies. “If you don’t make it specific to your business, you’re not going to get buy-in. It has to work for the company, and everybody is a unique little flower.”

Paul Casey, vice-president of Programs and Strategic Development for Ontario’s Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), concurs.

“You have to have a health and safety program that reflects the type of work you do,” Casey says, noting that a lot of companies will buy or purchase a program that doesn’t necessarily reflect all of their work, equipment or processes.

“It’s people, equipment, materials, and process — you always look at the worker first,” Casey says. “The program is your ‘say’ — and you need to communicate it to the employees. They need to understand it. Employees have to be trained and able to function and operate safely with the work they’re doing.”

From there, you can further expand your health and safety program to include audits and accreditation. COR — Certificate of Recognition — is an example. Casey describes COR as a “health and safety management system audit.”

“It requires companies to examine all the hazards and risks associated with the work they do, and when you do that, you build controls in that would make it safe to work in that environment,” he says.

COR certification provides companies with a process for evaluation.

“Evaluation means you review to see if it’s being implemented correctly, and you make sure that it does get the desired outcome, meaning the hazard has been controlled,” Casey says.

When something doesn’t work as it should or leads to an issue, COR-certified companies follow an assessment process, which leads to corrective action and creates the opportunity for improvement in the future.

“If nothing else, the company has the confidence their program is being applied regularly, because they evaluate themselves,” Casey says. “Without that, a lot of organizations, a lot of people, have the assumption things are safe, because events aren’t happening. People aren’t getting injured. Equipment’s not being damaged. But you really don’t know until you evaluate and assess. Is it being applied? Is it appropriate to start with? Is it making a difference? And how do we improve upon it?”

“COR confirms the system is aligned to the work hazards and controls necessary for the type of work you’re doing,” Casey says. “The majority of it is knowledge that your controls are sufficient to support the work you’re doing and allow your people to be safe in their daily activities — and that’s the bottom line. Continuous evaluation and continuous improvement allows you to be confident that you’re meeting any new challenges that come up.”

While COR is national, it is administered provincially — and is relatively new in Ontario and eastern provinces.

“The majority of participants today are in the construction field, but we do have a large number of electrical utilities involved, and we do have a large number of transportation companies participating,” Casey says, adding that some very large construction projects have started requiring larger subcontractors to be COR-certified on a threshold basis.

In Alberta, COR is not a requirement but there are incentives and rebates offered through WCB. A key incentive is being able to work with some of the larger companies.

“COR has been around since the early ’90s in Alberta, and what has happened is that a number of larger companies are involved in COR, and, for them, when they are hiring other companies, they look for companies that have COR,” says Tammy Hawkins, chief operations officer for the Alberta Construction Safety Association (CSA).

Hawkins estimates that 10 per cent of companies in Alberta are COR-certified, but in construction specifically, that represents about 55 per cent of construction payrolls.

“There are 13 different [COR] certifying partners in Alberta, and we certify half of the CORs in the province,” Hawkins says.

Which certifying partner you want depends your WCB industry code. Well drillers may be included with oil and gas well drillers under Energy Safety Canada — also known as Enform. At Enform, COR is organized by company size, with COR for companies with 20-plus employees, MECOR for companies with 10 to 19 employees, and SECOR for companies with fewer than 11 employees.

“Most companies manage their financial assets. They manage their cash flows. They manage all of those things and, for some reason, safety becomes a compliance focus,” Casey says, adding that the IHSA itself is COR-certified, a process that involved redesigning its own program and re-educating its staff.

“In a health and safety management system, you can’t just focus on, ‘What do I have to do to be legally compliant?’ In a system, you have to say, ‘What do I have to do to be confident my employees are doing the work appropriately and will be able to go home safely at the end of the day?’ ”

Carolyn Camilleri is a Toronto-based writer, editor, and content strategist. She has been writing for consumer and trade magazines, as well as businesses and organizations, for more than 15 years.

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