​​Learning about health and safety from the best: A student’s experience

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By Ibrahim Mughrabi

Special to Ontario Construction News

Finding industry leaders that are willing to give students the time of day is a rare occasion. Knowing that their time is precious, we aimed to learn as much as we could in the least amount of time possible. We figured an informational interview followed by a short site visit would be the best approach to gather the information we needed to complete our class assignment. It would be an understatement to say that our preconceived notions about senior management being dull and unaccommodating were wrong. It turns out that some industry leaders are actually, the complete opposite!

As part of our Health and Safety course at George Brown, one of our course requirements was to visit a local construction site to conduct a health and safety review to help practice the H&S theories we were taught and trained to implement. It took us a while to find a company that would even talk to us, never mind consider a visit, as companies seem to be a bit hesitant about having visitors on their sites due to safety and liability concerns.

However, upon reaching out to Michelle Hahn from the Industry Liaison Office at George Brown College, she was able to put us in touch with the program coordinator at The League of Champions, Marjorie Javier, who in turn put us in touch with the Health and Safety Manager of Gillam Group, Alexander Frame.

As our assignment was near due by the time we got in touch with Mr. Frame, time was of the essence. Luckily, we were able to arrange a meeting in record time and agreed to meet with Mr. Frame on March 20th. Only a few days before Ontario Premier, Doug Ford had ordered all non-essential businesses in the province to shut down. By then, we were all well aware of social distancing standards and had to rethink the details of our group visit as it would pose an unnecessary health and safety risk for everyone involved.

After consulting my team and Mr. Frame, we agreed that the most responsible thing to do would be to reduce the number of visitors from five to one. However, to be fair and to give my team members an equal opportunity to participate in the informational interview and site visit, I set up a conference call for them to attend virtually.

Personally, this was my first encounter with social distancing measures and wanted to make sure that I was following the Ministry of Health’s recommendations in regard to personal and public hygiene protocols for the prevention and control of the ongoing pandemic. I felt that it was necessary to inform Mr. Frame, prior to the meeting, that I would be showing up wearing latex gloves and a sanitary mask. This was especially awkward to say the least as I had never introduced myself to anyone without shaking their hand, standing six feet away wearing sanitary PPE. Nonetheless, Mr. Frame was very accommodating.

The meeting successfully took place on the morning of Friday, March 20th 2020, at Gillam’s head office in Toronto and was followed with a brief site visit to one of Gillam’s ongoing projects, China City. We were anxious going into the meeting, considering that we would be interviewing an experienced H&S senior manager about basic H&S matters and using unfamiliar industry jargon.

However, once the interview started, we quickly noticed that the terms and concepts being explained sounded very familiar and not as foreign as we had anticipated. This clearly indicated to us that our course content and training was in fact very current and in harmony with industry standards.

Studying H&S in a classroom is a great way to raise awareness about it among, soon to be, industry employees. However, nothing beats acquiring knowledge from firsthand experiences such as these. Walking on site, I noticed that everything we were taught in regard to H&S signage, practice and procedures were evident. Our meeting and accompanied site visit with Mr. Frame gave us invaluable insight as to how the construction industry’s H&S standards and regulations are actually implemented on the ground. While on-site, I also had the opportunity to meet both the project coordinator and site superintendent. They were able to share some insight with us about their roles and responsibilities as construction professionals which made the experience that much more informative.

From my experience as a student and an educator over the years, I have noticed the incremental gap growing between education curriculums and industry requirements. As college students preparing to enter the construction industry, I strongly believe that opportunities such as these are vital to the learning process and the ability of the next generation of industry professionals to gain essential H&S knowledge and awareness.

We truly appreciate the support of all the people involved in facilitating this experience from George Brown’s Industry Liaison Office, The League of Champions, Gillam Group and of course Mr. Alexander Frame for the knowledge, experience, and time that he was so eager to share with us. Indeed, it is only through interactions such as these that we can ensure that soon to be construction industry employees graduate to become safety conscious construction leaders.

Ibrahim Mughrabi is a construction engineering technology student at George Brown College. This article was first published on the League of Champions construction safety website.​

 

 

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