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Monthly Archives: June 2014

BodyGuard Blankets: Good or Bad?

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Is the BodyGuard Blanket going to result in an increase or decrease in school shooting victims?



Read the article: Mashable – ‘Bulletproof’ Blanket Is No Match for a School Shooting

The media seems to have glommed onto BodyGuard Blanket as the next silver safety bullet to mitigate the damage caused by school shootings and tornadoes. Critics are keen to point out that this piece of school PPE is more of a shield, in that it doesn’t protect the sides of the user’s body.

At best, this product is going to mitigate human suffering by blocking children from seeing their best friends getting shot, thereby preventing post-traumatic stress syndrome in victims of school shootings. Do you remember this scene from Fight Club?

You know why they put oxygen masks on planes from cineclip NET on Vimeo.

It’s really a throwback to the Bert the Turtle ‘Duck & Cover” film from the 50’s, which promoted the ‘Duck & Cover’ method for surviving a nuclear blast:

While the Duck & Cover method does have some good theoretical foundations, it was largely criticized for being a ‘red scare’ propaganda tool intended to make children scared of the communist threat.

On one level, the BodyGuard blanket could result in fewer school shooting victims. But on the other, it could result in a serious blowback effect through the law of Unitended Consequences. For example, a shooter could cobble together several blankets with some duct tape and create a full body armor suit that would allow them to squeeze off more shots. Or, the shooter could simply try to disguise themselves under a sea of red blankets, making it more difficult to discern the assailant from the rest of the school population.

At $1,000 a pop, these are not cheap. For a school of 1,200 kids, that’s $1.2 million that could have gone into educational programs, enhanced security or even a new tornado room. From a benefit perspective, your child is more likely to die from cancer, an auto accident or a genetic birth defect, according to numbers from the National Institute of Health. So a $1,000 will have a higher ROI in terms of fatality prevention and longevity if it goes into healthy food, traffic safety and genetic research.

So if the product has not demonstrated a good benefit/cost ratio, is prone to misuse, can be used by an assailant to do more damage and does not fully protect the user, what’s the point? As stated earlier, it’s to salve the trauma of watching your schoolmates get blasted away because it blocks your view, or as a propaganda tool for conditioning school children. While the intentions are good and this product does come from a father’s desire to protect his children, it may not be the best allocation of resources to reduce overall death rates.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

— C.S. Lewis


What’s Wrong with the NCSO Program (and How to Fix It)

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Is it time to change the NCSO Designation?

job wrong

Over the past years the Provincial Safety Associations have been very successful in introducing into industry the National Construction Safety Officer program. NCSOs will work as:

– safety advisors,
– construction safety officers,
– construction safety personnel,
– contract safety advisors,
– pipeline safety personnel/consultants,
– safety inspectors, mining safety,
– safety consultants,
– fire safety consultants,
– facility safety officers,
– registered safety personnel,
– project safety management personnel,
– Health & Safety coordinators,
– inspectors,
– supervisors, and
– managers

It is up to the individual to continue to upgrade in order to increase their overall knowledge of industrial work practices. You don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl” who knows all there is to know about safety, but nothing about how to apply it in a reasonable and practicable fashion that generates employee buy in.

Whether that person advances towards a diploma, certificate, degree and eventually a CSP or CRSP, true field experience lacks in many of these educational endorsements.

At Xi we canvass the marketplace to obtain the best candidates who have the knowledge of how the work is done. We are providing not just ‘any body’ but a true, well rounded Safety Professional who has the applicable skills, knowledge, education and related abilities to give to our clients a relative comfort zone that our people can be embedded into the project and hit the ground running.

The Problem:

From a Human Resources perspective we see an industry that is being fed in many cases, young inexperienced safety personnel who are literally being chewed up as they are thrust into roles that are years ahead of their experience levels.

It’s certainly unfair to the individual and an inadequate use of company resources to replace the person again due to that person’s inexperience.

Too often I have come across, eager, young and keen safety persons on the project site who really have no business being placed into a position they are most ill equipped to succeed at.

In too many cases, industry is taking relatively inexperienced safety personnel, giving them a two week training course, then turning them loose on a project site. A journeyman spends four (4) years from the time he first starts his apprentice to be recognized as proficient. We expect a Safety person to be proficient and be able to understand every trade out there after a two week course? It’s impossible.

Personnel come into the business with some of the most wrong reasons, “I heard there was a lot of money to be made in safety and you don’t have to do much to earn it.” Or, “Safety is my passion.”

No it’s not.

Make the quality of what you do your primary focus, much like a tradesman, once you have mastered that, you will know if this vocation is your true calling.

But I digress, and getting back to my original theme of, ‘is it time to change the NCSO content?’ I believe so and a workable approach could be much of what is described herein.


The NCSO designation is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to safety. In fact,there is much, much more to it below the water line, or in our case, the project site activities. In fact, there is a whole dynamic that is changing frequently, and if you can’t even read or see that, you are already lost.

The Solution

I believe that if we are going to be successful and gain control of the discipline we are going to have to properly educate those who desire to pursue a career as a safety professional. For example, the experience letter that is required to enter into the safety officer role. In many cases persons are circumventing the requirements of the letter by filing documents that are in the best case are an overstatement of what they have done in the past.

So once the potential safety person has gone through the process of attendance, questionnaire test and gets the audit under their belt, the newly minted person is unleashed upon industry and meets the fate that I described earlier.

Here’s what I believe we should be doing.

1. Rename the designation as Trade Safety Coordinator.

Once a person has gone through some mandatory on the job training that should include a thorough education on:

– hazard identification,
– due diligence,
– prime contractor roles,
– ground disturbance 2 or equivalent,
– electrical safety,
– mobile equipment operations theory,
– rigging and heavy lifting,
– aerial lift instruction certification,
– Incident Command Level 2,
– fire prevention awareness,
– user training on OHS Regulation table of contents,
– fall protection and scaffold awareness training,
– Project HSE Execution Plan writing,
– security level one,
– basic coaching certification,
– confined space entry,
– inspections
– control measure selection and corrective action implementation
– incident investigation,
– environmental spill training.

And finally, the individual should be able to articulate their role as a safety person by writing their own job description. These are all valid and pertinent training components a field safety person should be proficient in.

2. From HSA to TCSC

Under the current framework of the NCSO, a person who does not have enough field experience will be able to register as a Heatlh and Safety Administrator (HSA). The name of this designation suggests that the safety role is largely administrative. The Apprentice Construction Trade Safety Coordinator (CTSC), however, indicates a level of apprenticeship in the safety profession while working with other trades.

Once a person has received their training they are issued a TCSC (Temporary) certificate that allows the TCSC time to complete their on the job ‘apprenticing’ once they are hired onto a site, manufacturing facility or single trade contractor.

While at the TCSC level, the trainee is required at the project site level, facility or single craft contractor to:

• work with 5 core crafts such as electricians, laborers, pipefitter/welders, mobile equipment operators, iron workers/scaffolders at the project level of two days for each craft. At this stage the TCSC is actively working with the crew handling only designated tools and materials so as to understand their purpose and function. They would also lead the tool box meeting; job safety analysis and ensuring the quality of field level risk assessments are completed.

• Working with 5 core crafts gives the TCSC a view into the actual work activities of the trade, understands the terminology, the tools and how tasks are planned and performed.

• For example in working with the Mobile Equipment Operators, depending on the machinery the TCSC would do a ride along in cabs where able, or climb up onto a dozer, excavator, piling rig, skid steer and operate under the mentorship of a trainer. Invaluable insight would be gained as to how equipment works, its general blind spots and safety features of a machine.

• The same can be said for working at heights with iron workers and scaffolders, the TCSC would learn the nuances of the trade, the tools and equipment and the safe way a craftsman approaches his work. The same approach would be for electricians and laborers.


Once the TCSC has completed the mandatory, participatory 100 hours for project work, they are required to write an exam based on their overall OHS knowledge as well as trade familiarization and are issued their permanent CSC designation. This could be performed in conjunction with the TCSC’s work duties on the project.

For single trade companies or manufacturing plants, the TCSC would be required to work 40 hours with their field team completing the same requirements.

Whether a person holds a trade ticket or not, has graduated from a university and gone on to attain a CRSP, the TSC would remain the prerequisite for entry into the construction and manufacturing industries, because it has given the worker the grass root understanding of the personnel who are performing the work and can speak with some degree of knowledge and some credibility about the specific trade that is being addressed.

My feeling is that we have gone too far down the nanny state road with respect taking away the ability of a craftsman to think for themselves and encumbering the craftsperson with the equivalent of placing boxing gloves on them and asking them to thread up a 8-32 nut and bolt. You try it Mr. Alphabet.

Though following your passion is supposed to be today’s ideal, it often won’t get you anywhere but frustrated. Focus instead on acquiring unique skills and refining the quality of what you do with the focus of a devoted craftsperson. You’ll be well on your way to cultivating not only a satisfying career, but a new, rarer kind of practical quality built on commitment, mastery and pride.


2014: Peak Oil Sands Investment?

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Does the shelving of the Total SA Joslyn mine signal that the recent wave of oil sands investment has peaked?


This past week, Total SA And their business partners decided to shelve the Joslyn Mine project, which places $11 bn in oil sands investment into the “unlikely” category.

As an economist, I always look at other informal indicators of macroeconomic trends. Some other informal indicators are pointing to a crest in the recent wave of oil sands investment.

– The price of diesel at the pump is approaching its 2007 levels, which raises variable costs for operating machinery.
– Multiple fatalities in oil sands projects as S-A-F-E-T-Y is trumped by P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-O-N.
– Companies shedding contract employees, layoffs or hiring freezes as corporations regroup.
– House flipping is back in Calgary as more people enter the market to sell $600,000 duplexes.
– More frequent instances of rude wait staff at eating establishments as wait staff get over worked.
– Last but not least, the length discarded cigarette butts includes an excess of 1cm of discarded tobacco.

I hate to say I told you so, but I did. Back in 2011, when I was working at the AER, I was tasked with estimating oil sands construction CAPEX for upcoming years. The model is based on some project capex assumptions around construction schedules and announced, approved or projects under construction. You can see a screenshot of the output, as it appears on page 1-15 of the 2011 ST-098 report.


Click to enlarge

Well, I dug out my old spreadsheet to have a closer look. Here’s a screenshot of where that graph comes from:


Click to enlarge

Look closely at the chart. See the blue mound? That’s oil sands mine investment. See the small black strip? That’s pipelines. What’s that tell you?

First, the lack of pipeline capacity is concerning. Come to think of it, in 2011 I was also writing about the subsequent explosion of bitumen by rail, which has occurred to offset this shortage of pipeline capacity. But this shelving of the Joslyn project is a rational market response to the pricing signals given by labour shortages, material cost escalation and logistical issues.

What does this mean if you are a safety professional? If I’m looking at my linkedin account, it’s telling me that there are a lot of Safety Managers looking to make a jump or transition. Why is this? Are they fed up with their workplace safety culture or management hubris? Do they see the peak coming, too?

As I look at the tea leaves, chicken bones and runes of my excel spreadsheet and assumptions, it’s telling me the following:

1. Contract HSE Work May Become Scarce. Many HSE professionals are contractors. In a stable economy, contractors are the last to be hired and first to be laid off. It can be lucrative work, if you can get it. If you’re a contractor, it may become more difficult to find contract work as the nature of oilsands work shifts from construction spending to maintenance, shutdowns (sustaining capex). There will still be a role for contractors, but the market does appear to be saturated at this point.

2. Go West, Young Man. If you’re looking to get in on the ground level of another boom, try British Columbia for a change.

3. Drill, Baby Drill. Drilling can continue in a low price environment as companies drill wells, cap them, and wait for a better pricing environment. If oil sands investment is suffering from bottlenecks and uncertainty, we will see more tradesmen returning to the rigs to find an income.

4. Merge and Acquire My contacts in the world of banking are licking their chops at the number of prime takeover targets in downtown Calgary. Companies sitting on cash are primed for a round of growth through acquisitions, so if you’re looking to sell your company, you may find a buyer.

5. Get your NEBOSH Safety seems to be the most difficult part of oil sands construction. As these projects come on line, the nature of the HSE portfolio changes from construction safety towards process safety. You will see more demand for safety engineers, process safety analysts, HSE data analysts. In other words the NEBOSH IOGC will displace the NCSO as the incumbent HSE certification.