Tammy Olsen, health, safety and environment (HSE) advisor at Acres Enterprises Ltd. in Kamloops B.C. recently won a BC Construction Association (BCCA) leadership award for helping to keep the company’s field workers safe during the 2021 heat, fire and flood emergencies.
“I was very honoured to receive the award, although I didn’t find out right away that I had won,” said Olsen.
“We hold town hall meetings with our field and office staff and this is where it was announced. Just before the announcement I received a call on my cell phone, so I stepped outside and I missed the announcement and congratulations.
“While I was on my call, one of my co-workers came outside and waved at me to come inside. I indicated I was on a call, so they went back inside.
“My phone started to bing, and bing again and again; several text messages were coming through and I thought, ‘OK, what’s going on?’
“I walked back into the office where a bunch of office staff were watching the meeting and people were congratulating me. I really didn’t know what was going on,” Olsen recalled. “That’s when I was told I had won. My team kept it a secret to announce at the meeting.”
An even bigger shock for Olsen was last year’s heat wave.
“I’m from Saskatchewan and didn’t realize how hot the B.C. interior gets in summer,” she said. “The heat was extreme, it was brutal. Because our crews work outside and their work is already physical, the possibility of heat stroke was an added risk.”
Olsen checked the daily weather forecast and put controls in place for more-than-average cooling-down periods during the day.
“Breaks were increased to allow for time inside an air-conditioned trailer, electrolytes filled the site trailer fridge and we purchased cooling towels for everyone to keep their body temperature to a safe level,” said Olsen. “We also made it possible for our operations to start earlier and shut down earlier to beat the heat.”
During last summer’s wildfires in the BC Interior, Olsen handled Acres’ crisis management. She arranged for early site shutdowns and ensured there was quick and easy access to fire suppression equipment.
She also checked on the well-being of staff on projects near wildfire areas and stayed in touch with employees who were being evacuated from their homes or placed on evacuation notice.
“There was ash and smoke everywhere, and the air quality was very bad,” Olsen said.
Acres provided masks, dust masks and respirators to all workers.
“Because wearing a respirator with safety glasses in the heat added the risk of glasses fogging up, we purchased some safety glasses that don’t fog up,” said Olsen. “They worked wonderfully, and, in the end, we made it through the fires.”
When flooding hit the Fraser Valley and the interior in November 2021, Olsen and Acres site supervisors co-ordinated emergency procedures in case any of their projects needed to be evacuated.
Fortunately, only one site was affected by flooding, and Olsen led the safe evacuation of Acres employees from the site.
“I can’t thank my teams enough for such a remarkable job on the challenges we faced last year,” Olsen said. “It seemed that we went from one obstacle right into another – COVID-19, heat, fires, floods.”
Olsen has been Acres’ health, safety and environmental advisor for six years.
“My job is to develop and manage all aspects of our health and safety management system in our civil, general and industrial operations,” said Olsen.
Acres works throughout British Columbia and can have 15 or more projects, with 140-150 employees, on the go at any given time.
Olsen’s award was one of three made by BCCA for exceptional leadership, to cap the fifth annual Construction and Skilled Trades Month celebrations.