Safety takes spotlight

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo Two employees of the Northwest Territories Power Corporation – Eddie Smith, left, and Matt Miller, centre – listen to Alberta's Dave Fennell, a safety expert and guest speaker in Hay River on May 3 for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week.

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo
Two employees of the Northwest Territories Power Corporation – Eddie Smith, left, and Matt Miller, centre – listen to Alberta’s Dave Fennell, a safety expert and guest speaker in Hay River on May 3 for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week.

Workers from around the community gathered for a workshop on May 3 for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week.

The annual event brings attention to safety in the workplace, as well as in the community.

Greg Whitlock, regional superintendent for the Department of Transportation, has been organizing events for the week for the past 20 years.

“It’s important to continue to recognize the safety components of our jobs so that we don’t get complacent,” said Whitlock.

The guest speaker this year, Dave Fennell, travelled from Cochrane, Alta., to share his expertise on risk tolerance and safety management.

“The injury rate off the job is 10 times what it is on the job,” he said. “You can be safe at work but then not bring it home with you. So my goal is to bring attention to safety in all areas of life.”

David Dewar, the senior health, safety and environment policy co-ordinator at the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC), attended one of Fennell’s presentations at a conference in 2015.

Taking note of Fennell’s crowd engagement and safety expertise, Dewar asked him to come to Hay River this year for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week.

“The more we can get workers exposed to ideas of health and safety management, the safer we are all going to be,” said Dewar. “The idea is to get people to network and bring ideas to these events. If people start talking about safety on a holistic level, it will be better understood.”

Fennell recently retired from his career as a safety professional in the oil and gas industry – most recently from his position as a senior safety advisor with Imperial Oil. Although he has worked in the south for most of his career, he recalls starting out in Norman Wells more than 35 years ago.

“Safety in the North is not so different (from other regions) today but two decades ago there was quite a difference,” he said. “The risk tolerance in the NWT was significantly higher. We have good workers here. When a task needs to be done, someone does it. Today, with the influence of the GNWT, mining companies, oil companies, there has been a lot of influence on the safety culture. Things are not how they were 20 years ago. You can’t just send a junior worker into an untested confined space anymore.”

Now that Fennell is retired, he is able to promote safety through public speaking.

“When I was full time with Imperial Oil, I knew there were more people I could reach,” he said. “Now that I’m retired, I can do it. It’s not a job, it’s a passion. Some people pay me for it. I’m also passionate about kayaking but nobody pays me for that.”

Fennell had a few requests for his expertise for North American Occupational Safety and Health Week but chose Hay River because of his love for the North.

“It’s rewarding to see safety take off in the NWT,” he said. “People that come out will take what they’ve learned and it rubs off everywhere. Teach the kids how to stop and think about what they are doing. This is how we make Hay River a safer, better place.”

Mitchell Touesnard works in mechanical computer-aided design at the NWT Power Corporation and attended Fennell’s presentation.

“He made a point, that just because you’ve done a task 1,000 times with nothing happening doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen,” said Touesnard, after hearing Fennell speak.