BC’s Hot Construction Market: Specializing in Emerging Fields – Safety

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As part of our discussion series addressing challenges faced by young workers in the construction industry, we spoke with Michael Ramos, our Health and Safety Manager (pictured above).  Michael is a young Journeyman Plumber turned Safety Manager, and one of thirty certified NCSOs (National Construction Safety Officer) in British Columbia. Curious how Michael developed his career into a management role specializing in the field of safety? He’ll tell us all about it in the below Q&A:

Q. What interested in you in safety as a Journeyman plumber on the tools?

“I noticed over the past 10 years working in construction that safety procedures, and training were (and are) becoming more and more prevalent in the industry. Companies are placing much more emphasis on developing safety standards above and beyond basic standards which is really driving the rise of a “safety culture” – I wanted to develop a skill set in line with my interests that would set me apart from other tradesmen in the industry.”

Q. So you’ve always had an interest in safety, why is that?

 “While I worked through my apprenticeship in plumbing, I always had my eye on a career with the local Fire Department. This led me to take a variety of First Aid and Safety related courses.  In addition, I worked on industrial jobs in Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta which exposed me to the jobsite safety industry. It was fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) the extreme level of safety documentation measures and resources used to enforce safety on those projects. Coming back to Vancouver it really highlighted the difference in the safety culture and awareness compared to the industrial projects. I felt like I could help improve safety in the GVRD by meeting somewhere in the middle between the old school mentality of safety (or lack thereof) and the extreme paperwork overkill I had experienced in the past.”

Q. What in your opinion has caused the increase of employer interest in safety?

“There are multiple mutually beneficial reasons to building a strong safety culture, for both the employer and the worker. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to go home safely.”

Q. What are some of the main benefits for fostering a strong safety culture?

  • A reduction in workplace injury results in more efficient projects = enables employers to reinvest in their workers.
  • Safety training and development of workers teaches skills that make him/her more valuable in future = affords workers with increased opportunities.
  • Shows workers that their employer cares about their health and wellbeing = increases morale and helps to build a positive culture that retains workers long term.
  • Enables companies to bid projects with more stringent requirements = keeps us all employed into the future.

Q. When you were starting out with your apprenticeship, what is the best career advice you have been given?

“Try and learn something from every work situation, especially the negative ones.”

Q. How did that advice help you along your way?

“I started my apprenticeship in service plumbing and even though my experience (with that company) was mostly negative, I gained some valuable skills. I learned to troubleshoot problems, communicate with difficult people, and navigate through many challenging situations on my own. At the time I didn’t appreciate it, but those skills have helped me throughout my career and also in everyday life.”

Q. What advice would you give to someone considering plumbing as a career (and how they might specialize as you did in safety)?

“Plumbing is a lot more than just plunging toilets, the mechanical world has so many areas and sub categories to learn about. From plumbing, heating and gas work to institutional, residential or commercial types of projects, there is an endless variety of work and specialties. Keep learning new things and expanding your knowledge, and if you come across something you enjoy doing, try and figure out how you can do it better.”

Q. You developed your career fairly rapidly, what do you attribute your success to?

“Asking lots of questions and trying to understand the work that I was doing. It’s easy to “just put pipe in” without thinking much about it, but takes some time and effort to really understand what you are doing and why. Reading drawings and understanding the different systems and how/why they work is a big eye opener.”

Q. What is your biggest strength as a site safety leader?

“I think my biggest strength is understanding the work we are doing and being able to relate to the crew in the field. I hated how the site safety on industrial jobs I worked on in Saskatchewan and Alberta had no clue about the work we were doing. They would often say we had to do something a certain way which was not practical, and there wouldn’t be input from the workers actually doing the job. Getting the crews involved and using their feedback and involvement to develop procedures is an important way to get everyone working safe.”

Q. When you first started your apprenticeship, did you expect it would take your career to leadership?

“No. I started with the goal of climbing the ladder as an apprentice into a well rounded journeyman. Only later in my apprenticeship did I recognize the opportunities there are for people looking for them.”

Q. What’s the single most important takeaway for young apprentices pursing a career in the trade, and specifically those interested in developing a specialty?

“Show up on time and ready to work, stay positive even when things aren’t going right, and ask lots of questions. If there’s an area of work you are interested in ask about it! Sometimes you get lucky and things fall into place, but most of the time you have to put in the work and ask the right questions to open up opportunities.”

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Pictured above: Michael briefing our crew at UBC Undergrad Life Sciences & Teaching Labs on proper inspection, use and storage of fall protection equipment.  

That wraps up this edition of our BC’s Construction Market: How to Streamline your success (safety) edition. If you missed the previous post which features advice to help you develop your plumbing career into site leadership, check it out at: http://omegamechanical.ca/2018/04/07/bcs-hot-construction-market-how-to-streamline-your-success/

Stay tuned for the next post in this series which will discuss the transition from site to project management, how to get there, and what the job actually entails! You won’t want to miss it!