From the monthly archives: September 2011

People from the streets watched on in horror almost 100 women, some as young as 13 years of age, flung themselves burning out of the ninth floor windows of the overcrowded Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
It was 1911 in New York City, USA, and the immigrant employees hired to work long hours making…well, shirtwaists, were being incinerated to death in a raging fire.
Fire hoses in place for just such an incident had no water supply; the elevators were burned out; the fire escape on the ninth floor had buckled and fallen from the heat, taking screaming victims with it; doors to other floors were locked as per company policy.
The fire brigade ladders only reached to the sixth floor, and the rescuers looked on helplessly as flaming bodies continued leaping from the smoke filled windows.
This is a true story I read about recently in the book ‘501 Most Devastating Disasters’, which chronicles world-wide natural and man-made disasters. The one thing that clearly stood out to me in almost every case – at great cost to human life – was how prone we are to setting safety regulations in place only after a disaster happens.
The above story resulted in the death of 140 people and caused new legislation improving fire, safety and building codes. This is reactive safety at its’ finest, and while the safety precautions set in place afterwards were very good, what stopped them from being implemented before the incident happened?

I wonder how many times these tragedies almost happened, before they actually happened. How many times someone had a ‘whew, that was close’ moment, but left it unreported. Or did report it, and was ignored.
Of the 48 industrial and engineering disasters portrayed over the last century, more than 45,000 people lost their lives and many more were seriously injured. Today in India alone, 50,000 people still die of work related accidents each year.
We are fortunate to live in a society that encourages a proactive safety environment through near miss reporting.  A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented the accident from occurring.
In terms of human lives and property damage, near misses are invaluable, zero-cost tools that can capture sufficient data for determining the root cause and contributing factors. This in turn allows for changes to be implemented that can prevent an accident from taking place… before it happens instead of after!
When near miss reporting is encouraged and acted on, the majority of accidents in the workplace can be prevented before they happen. When the next history book on the ‘most devastating disasters’ is written, we don’t want it to portray a preventable mistake made by our company, or to list our coworkers among the dead.
We can learn how to prevent accidents before they happen, if we choose a proactive approach to safety.
David Phibbs is the president of Alpha Safety Ltd. and Alpha Training Solutions.
For more information on this article or their services, contact 1-888-413-3477, 250-787-9315 or www.alphasafety.net.

 

There are rules and regs and common sense and protocols and any number of other factors that go into safety, but arguably one of the most important is the ability to be proactive. It’s that ability that spurred Randy Hansen into action. Instead of accepting that fall protection was the best practice for him, he designed a piece of equipment that theoretically will take ‘fall protection’ to ‘fall prevention’.
“We’re in the fuel hauling business for Weibe Transport – I’m the shop supervisor and of course fall protection is mandated by OH&S,” said Hansen. “Rather than the traditional approach to fall protection which means everybody tries to catch you after you fall, I found that to be a rather silly way to look at fall protection, I set out to devise a way to prevent the fall rather than catch you after you fall.”
The result was the RAP (Retractable Access Platform). It’s, simply put, a retractable fence mounted on a scissor lift that is deployed to prevent falls. It’s not complicated and Hansen says that in comparison to the more traditional approach of brining in an engineer to deal with anchor poles and cables, his approach has cost benefits and efficiencies the engineered approach does not.
“Typically, a scissor lift is within it’s own right a platform. You can work over the side so you reach over the railing from the scissor lift and do work. In our business, because we work on hatches on top of tanks, sensors that type of thing, we are actually standing on top of our work surface so what we needed was something that creates the corral around us and is not in fact a platform under us.
“Essentially, you pull the scissor lift up beside the tank, a walkway or platform folds down and it rests on the tank. Now that gives you access out onto the tank, and then a railing system unfolds and that extends out over the tank area,” said Hansen.
A very standard scissor lift with a 30-inch width was chosen so that it was maneuverable in the confines it was likely to be needed in. Other things like this exist, said Hansen, but they are three-wheel extendable ladders, with a fixed platform.
“The problem with that is that it takes another bay,” said Hansen. The RAP allows someone to work in the space a mechanic would pull his toolbox into.
It’s a completely simple and completely different approach that yields a multifunction piece of equipment that, of which one component is or should be a standard piece of equipment, he explained.
After dreaming about the initial idea, Hansen went to his employer who gave his blessing to proceed. Hansen had a welder work up what turned out to be a very successful prototype.
“We went ahead and build two more,” said Hansen. There were then three Weibe shops, each with its own RAP. Safety officers investigated the prototypes said Hansen who reports it was given a safety approval.
An engineer was also brought in to check the RAP out with similar positive results. The engineer, said Hansen, said he could engineer the RAP at which point the apparatus was validated.
The process from idea to manufacture isn’t always as simple as the idea and in this case, Hansen said he found it helpful to have an educated organization on his side when it came to developing his idea, particularly in terms of getting a patent.
At this stage, the RAP has been engineered and is patent pending and Hansen hopes others will see this in the same way he does – as a fully functioning safety innovation.
“We’re prepared now to release a circular on it, of course, presentation is a big part of any game and we want to do that right,” said Hansen.

 

Most businesses claim to have great service but out on the streets, consumers gripe about what is, in their perception, a very real lack of service in the North. So when someone raves about the service of a local business, NWB wants to know more.
We all know it when we get it, but what makes good service? We sent our secret shopper (who we will call Anne) into that Grande Prairie business with a list of things to assess including things such as: promptness of service, how well informed staff was, how well they lived up to their promises, how effective follow-through was, how attentive and polite staff members were, how customer-centred staff was, and to note her overall impression at all stages of her experience with the business.
While she returned with a list of high ratings in each area, it was something less measurable that made the strongest impression on Anne. And perhaps that is fitting in this case as business owner Michele Lefebvre of Shade All said he thought mostly good service comes down to “common sense”.
“They’ve already walked in that door. They’ve already made the effort to look you up and come and see you. You might as well treat them well,” said Lefebvre.  “‘Once they’re in the door and you’ve treated them well, they’re a customer for life’ is the motto I’ve always followed.”
Anne was sent in with a relatively small job to be done. She noted that from the moment she walked in she was treated well.  “They treated me like I was their best customer and that I spent millions there – that’s how I really felt even though I was spending very minimal,” said Anne.
She added that staff was both welcoming and professional from start to finish. One of the more telling comments she made was that she “got the feeling that everybody loved their job and loved being there”.
Lefebvre said he does have a policy of treating his staff very well. He cited one example: to celebrate one employee’s fifth anniversary of working for Lefebvre, he gave that individual a bonus cheque to let him know he was appreciated.
He admitted that it can be hard to motivate the same level of commitment to service in staff, he also said that his staff members were genuinely “awesome”.
Anne agreed. They were prompt, efficient, knowledgeable and pleasant. They went beyond what they promised and went even further. When attempting to book her appointment, Anne reported that they took her schedule into consideration as well as their own – they, in her words, “put the customer first”. “They juggled a few things around to get me in.”
And throughout the process she said she was kept informed and was an active participant in what was happening. Having a good product also helps.
“It’s always better when you’re selling something you believe in,” said Lefebvre. “The 3M stuff we’re selling – in my opinion it just doesn’t make sense not to put it on. Every single person has windows in their house or their car so pretty much everyone needs us.”
And that little extra? The product they work with is the same as the protective coating on cell phones – and Lefebvre will cover phones at no cost to his customers.
Lefebvre said he thinks a great deal of his success comes from his experiences with the Choices Seminars in Calgary. When he returned from his initial seminar, he said his closure rate was 100 per cent for several weeks.
“Every single customer that called Shade All came into my store and spent money, every single walk in but one older gentleman spent money – and he came back in February,” said Lefebvre.
He admits that he has a genial nature that is outgoing and friendly and that it helps him even if the “hustle and bustle sometimes makes me less than chipper”.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation that came from Anne was that she really enjoyed being there, got quality work done and had a great experience from start to finish. “I actually didn’t want to leave. I could have sat and had coffee with there all day,” she added.

 

There is no doubt that many of us work ourselves to our physical and mental limits and beyond in an effort to uphold our personal and financial responsibilities but is that enough to create burnout?

Obligations often mount when increased production and other occupational demands dictate longer hours and inadequate time to rest and recuperate. These demands as well as financial issues, or unreasonably high standards imposed upon ourselves can all contribute to high levels of stress and an unfortunate condition known as – burnout.
Burnout can be described as a state of mental, physical or emotional fatigue that results from being overworked and stressed for long periods of time.
Many of us push ourselves so hard and for so long that burnout is inevitable, while others realize the importance of taking a break and doing the things that they know will help them to relax.
The amount of time it takes to reach this state depends on the person and is connected to an individual’s personality as well as one’s tendency to take care of oneself.
Personality is a complex concept but simplified, it is the various subtle and often not-so-subtle characteristics that come together to make a person’s individuality and ability to adapt to stress and challenges.
Psychologists over time have witnessed a wide range of personality types that can be measured in many different ways.
Most of us are familiar with the term Type A personality but for those who are not, there are two distinct varieties of the Type A personality.
1. Type A Ambitious – this variety of the Type A personality tends to be very concerned with achievement and advancement in work and often watching the clock. Other characteristics of this personality type might include the tendency to control others and even take advantage of fellow employees.
2. Type A Angry – numerous studies were completed since the initial idea of type A personality showing this second more dangerous variety of the personality type. Those showing more hostile, angry and aggressive behaviors would likely fall under this category and these traits, according to many studies, are the main culprits in contributing to heart problems as well as premature burnout.
There are many differing schools of thought as to how personality dictates the way each individual processes and manages stress, but most of the available data points to the fact that being ambitious and highly motivated are not damaging when kept in check and combined with periods of rest and relaxation.
On the other hand, those that have more aggressive hostile tendencies and even explode over events that are trivial may very well be more prone to the effects of stress and are subsequently more likely to suffer from burnout.
So how do you know when you’re burned out? A Concordia University study examined the relationship between job stress and burnout. The study identifies three dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion, lack of accomplishment and depersonalization (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11200738).
Emotional exhaustion is something most of us have experienced and can be characterized by intolerance to others and environmental conditions, frequent anger and hostility towards co-workers, apathy and even psychosomatic or physical problems. Maintaining an awareness of changes in mood and affect can be helpful in avoiding emotional exhaustion and burnout.
The second category, lack of accomplishment, can be a function of apathy and emotional exhaustion. Losing one’s zeal for a particular occupation is a common side effect of burnout and frequently results in lack of motivation and subsequent deficits in important accomplishments. These changes can also have the effect of lowering an individual’s self esteem making it even more difficult to bounce back into one’s previous level of accomplishment.
Depersonalization is the final category of the three dimensions of burnout and is the process of losing oneself in work and becoming detached from reality. This can come in numerous forms including a sense of floating, or seeing oneself as a robot in a dream state. Depersonalization can last for moments or literally for years in some cases and can have the overall effect of creating debilitating anxiety and depression in the sufferer. Again, awareness of changes in oneself can be the most important part of preventing long lasting and chronic symptoms that can be life altering.
So how can we overworked, tired, status-seeking, job-commuters prevent burnout? Here’s a good way to start:
1. Awareness – consciousness of changes in oneself and one’s emotions are important ways of detecting changes. And although we all have shifts in emotion from hour to hour, day to day, month to month, maintaining a watchful eye over behaviors that seem to be counterproductive or out of the ordinary can be useful. Seeking the aid of a mental health professional can be helpful as well in this process as many of us are unable or unwilling to look at changes in ourselves and may rationalize by saying ‘I can handle this’ or ‘this really isn’t a problem for me’.
2. Know the symptoms – having a general familiarity with the symptoms of burnout and being honest with about our own tendencies and personalities can be huge steps to avoiding burnout.
3. Diet – many of us have a tendency to neglect our nutritional needs during times of high stress. This could be roughly compared to neglecting to put oil in your car. Stressful times demand even more attention to nutrition and an awareness of maladaptive habits that you may have formed over time that may very well be impeding your ability to work at your best.
4. Self-care – this is an extremely important part of preventing burnout. Allowing oneself periods of rest, relaxation, sleep and activities that help you to release stress are integral factors in burnout avoidance. Regular exercise is also paramount as it can often be the best tool at relieving stress and anxiety.
In summary, having an awareness of conditions and changes in yourself, and maintaining a program of physical and mental well-being are the best tools in staying healthy, happy and avoiding burnout.

 

It’s great to have thriving industries but it won’t matter if the financing isn’t there to fuel the activity. No matter how much work there is, expanding or starting a new business to help fill gaps in the market take money and that money often comes from external sources.

Meandering through the financial maze can be more effort than the work the money will support. Angel investors, venture capitalists, banks and other financial institutions provide financing under their own set of criteria however, it’s not just the acquisition of money that matters, it’s also knowing what to finance and when to do it.
Finding the right path for each unique business often requires help – after all, even financing has its trends, options and experts and someone with a roadmap can make all the difference in whether financing is successful or not.
“The biggest challenge businesses face is knowing and understanding the financial side of their business,” said Janet McNaughton, commercial account manager, RBC.
“There is a tendency for business owners to focus on the sales side of the business. The focus needs to be on how much money you get to keep after everything is paid. Know both sides of your business, the revenue AND the expense side. Any business can make a million dollars, but if it takes $1.1mm to make it, then why do it?”
Organizations like Business Development Bank and Community Futures both offer resources to help build the skills to make that ability easier. More and more traditional banks are offering a wider range of services to business customers and most include webinars to help businesses acquire skills.
“Our financial services are just about unlimited,” adds McNaughton. “Clients can call a toll-free number to talk to our business advisors  – 24/7. We recently partnered with Google to help businesses create a free website. Clients can wire funds anywhere in the world, pay bills and transfer money online. They can protect their assets with one of the many types of insurance we offer or take advantage of a free custom switch service for clients moving to RBC. There is a foreign exchange service, merchant services as well as the regular night/day deposit, safety deposit boxes and investment services – be it in branch or full/discount brokerages. There are full or partial payroll services. And, we offer online workshops on a variety of topics. That’s just some of the service on the business side.”
While all those added services are a bonus to clients, most people walking in are looking to borrow money. Particularly in the cyclical resource sectors, financing to get through the lean times until the money is coming in again is an ongoing need and bridge financing is a constant in that environment said Troy Fimrite of the Atlin Intitute.
From a start-up wondering the state of the market to an established business wondering what they are worth, Atlin Institute provides a market perspective compiled by professional analysts.
“If there are people wanting to get into the oil and gas industry and make money at it and they want to get a good idea of where the industry has been, where it’s at and where it’s going, we do industry reports…,” said Fimrite. The indepth reports can assist businesses to make more informed decisions about investing in the industry and as tools to assist businesses when negotiating loans, attracting investors, or finding appropriate buyers.
This is where it can get tricky. Fimrite explained there are lending tiers with the most familiar being traditional lenders like banks and credit unions through to higher risk lenders and on to private investors, but no matter what tier fits best, there are some basics that almost always apply.
“It’s critical a business owner show their lender how they will repay the loan without stretching business resources to the limit,” said McNaughton. “It’s also helpful if clients bring accountant prepared year-end statements, a Balance Sheet, Income statement or a cash flow forecast. Borrowers need to show the lender their repayment plan. You can never present too much good information.”
One of the things Atlin offers is a start-up package that provides potential investors a third party valuation’ Because of their connection to the marketplace, they are able to give a market valuation rather than just a financial one, something that could well impact potential lenders’ or investors’ sense of risk.
While every lender has their own criteria based on their risk tolerances and relationship with the borrower among other things, generally speaking, traditional financial institutions, which are very established in the marketplace, work well for established businesses and asset based lending, said Fimrite.
Some of the major banks have divisions that deal with the next tier of lending, as do private lending organizations. This tier is often accessed when acquiring intellectual property, another company, or when highly leveraged.
“One that it seems not a lot of companies don’t know about is factoring where they can finance your receivables,” said Fimrite. “It’s expensive money but sometimes that’s what a person needs to catch up on their receivables.” It’s a situation found often in the resource sector said Fimrite.
Scot Speiser, vice president, Financing and Consulting at Busiess Development Bank of Canada (BDC) said the Peace Region is in a fairly strong financial cycle. Mining, forestry and oil and gas are all on the upswing and the “financial needs are evolving”.
“Where we come in as a development bank is, we don’t have a line of credit facility, but what we do is we can do working capital loans on a term basis…without fixed asset security and that could be an injection from $10,000 up to a few million dollars which is paid back over a long term period and gives a permanent source of working capital injection into the company instead of a revolving kind of facility,” said Speiser.
As his institution sees the ramp up of industry, the other lending need is for hiring of more employees and building up of human resource capital and that unsecured capital often means looking to a higher risk lender like BDC for financing.
“The working capital, I think anytime in the cyclical businesses, is very difficult and especially in an expansion mode,” said Fimrite.
At the end of the day, even though our industries often require more than full time attention just to stay on top of the work, finding someone to help fill in the financial gaps can make a difference in the long-term success of a company.
“I think the biggest gift an entrepreneur has is the ability to be confident and think having a solid plan and knowing where you are financially and knowing your financial options gives you confidence to be able to build your company,” said Fimrite.

 

One of the largest regions of British Columbia, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is home to some of the country’s busiest oil and gas activity side-by-side with some of the country’s most beautiful backcountry.
Industry, tourism and agriculture all play a strong role in the economic foundation of the area, however, oil and gas is the backbone of the local economy.
The largest centre in the region is Fort Nelson, which is located 400 kilometres north of Fort St. John at mile 300 on the Alaska Highway. A regional population of approximately 6,200 services a landmass making up one tenth of British Columbia, although the seasonally adjusted population has been estimated to be upward of 10,000.
A brand new recreation centre sports duel ice rinks, meeting and fitness rooms, viewing mezzanine, community hall, curling rink and lounge, and a visitors’ centre. Schools, a library and hospital provide other amenities for the local residents.
Both a regional airport and the Alaska Highway provide access for residents, tourists and workers and both are plenty busy transporting people in and out of the area.
It’s estimated than approximately 1,000 tourists go through Fort Nelson on the Alaska Highway each day during the tourist season.
They come for a variety of reasons: the history of the Alaska Highway and the scenic beauty along the route are strong attractions for many of the travellers.
The variety of wildlife is spectacular with an active predator-prey system. You never know what you will find in the backcountry. Hiking, biking, boating, wildlife viewing, ATVing, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting and camping are all bountiful throughout the area and whether it’s a day, a week or a lifetime, there is something for almost everyone drawn to the area.
The tourism sector is taking shape with a new visitors centre in a permanent home for the first time. Up-highway operators may be reduced in number but those that are there are stronger and more established making it easier to travel north on the highway with better guarantees of a room and fuel.
But that’s only one side of the equation and arguably, work brings even more people to the Northern Rockies.
Touted as the largest shale gas field in Canada, the Horn River Basin has opened up the region to unprecedented industrial activity – not without its challenges. Experts estimate that there is about 250 trillion cubic feet of Natural Gas in Northeast BC with about 10-20 per cent being recoverable. Oil has also been discovered giving the region a doubly attractive status.
While the Horn River, like so many other areas in the country, has been impacted by economic and environmental realities in the last few years, the promise that generated so much excitement at it’s discovery has dampened, but not been extinguished.
The airport provides both scheduled and charter flights with charter flights outnumbering scheduled. It’s all about the work and there are six or more 737s arriving everyday with crew changes and other work related travellers.
Companies are continuing to expand to meet the needs of the area and particularly in light of the new technologies necessary to sustain the activity in an environmentally responsible way, are venturing into areas of service that were unimagined only a few years ago.
And regardless of which side of the provincial border a company hails from, one might think there would be enough work for all. Unfortunately, longstanding resentment toward Alberta companies still rears its head. Some claim work is preferentially going to Alberta companies while BC companies don’t get contracts they could manage. Others assert that there is no was local companies could handle either the scope or volume of the work needed given the relatively small local population.
Regardless of where they come from, the remoteness of the region doesn’t deter many from taking advantage of the Northern Rockies generous natural resources.
Located five hours north of Fort St. John, the remote nature of the area is both a boon and a curse. While transportation expenses are high and often increase the cost of doing business, the cost to residents is one of the more reasonable in BC’s northeast with both rental and mortgage costs averaging lower than in the rest of the province.
The majority of lands for development are in the hands of BC’s Integrated Land Management Bureau (ILMB). The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and ILMB are working together to ensure new land is opened up as quickly as possible – where and when it is needed to provide a sustainable and reasonable growth for the area.
The challenge of course is to provide all the services necessary to such a large area with such a small core population. The establishment of a Regional Municipality was a benefit and with forward thinking approaches to taxation, the municipality has done its part in providing the strongest tax base possible.
The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality’s tax regime links all three classes together creating a level of fairness and predictability in hopes of making the area attractive to investment. The 3.3 Ratio Industrial Rate Policy is endorsed by CEPA and CAPP and so far, industry is continuing to invest.
Housing all the workers continues to be as much of a challenge as it is in other northern locations. A residential housing study done in 2010 identified immediate a need for 150 new properties which would potentially create housing for another 1,000 people. The study looked at needs in terms of population growth rather than a linear timeframe and is considered more accurate than traditional studies.
Everyone both in the municipality and in industry has a stake in the area and more importantly, in the sustainability of the population, the environment and the work. For now, they are finding ways to maintain positive relationships and while some factors are beyond everyone’s control the  likelihood is that the region will continue to blend the best of both worlds for years to come.