Emily Wilkinson, the safety officer of ABS Excavating Ltd. (ABS) in Saskatoon, has been named the 2019 Safety Champion of the Year of Merit Contractors Association Saskatchewan (Merit Saskatchewan).
“I was completely shocked and honoured that, out of all the awesome nominations that Merit Saskatchewan received, I would be selected for such an amazing award,” said Wilkinson. “I am extremely proud but sometimes it still doesn’t seem real.”
Wilkinson, who has been the ABS safety officer since 2012, is a certified National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO).
She is responsible for doing site inspections, tool box talks “and, in general, helping the guys stay safe.”
Wilkinson also developed the company’s custom safety program. Called the ABS Corporate Safety Manual, it is a thick, detailed document.
The best way to be a safety officer is to work with the guys and not talk down to them,
— Emily Wilkinson
ABS Excavating Ltd.
“I wrote most of it myself, with input from the guys,” she said.
The number of ABS employees fluctuates between 20 and 40, peaking in the summer.
“The work is very dangerous,” said Wilkinson. “Sometimes the guys are digging down up to six or seven metres in depth.”
The company’s front-line workers need to be careful, because earth and rock are not their friends.
“One cubic yard of dirt weighs between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, or the weight of a small car,” said Wilkinson. “It doesn’t take much dirt to crush you.”
Wilkinson says the typical excavating company injuries are slips, trips and falls.
“Many injuries are caused by workers getting caught between pieces of equipment,” she said. “Excavation has a high rate of injuries and near-misses, but ABS has had a low rate. In the last year we had no reportable injuries.”
According to the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board, there were 1,130 excavation- and trenching-related claims, of which 4 involved fatalities, between 2009 and 2018 in that province.
In that period the number of claims fluctuated between 160 and 82, with 84 claims in 2018.
Although Wilkinson is the company’s safety expert, she says she has learned much about construction safety from ABS workers.
“The best way to be a safety officer is to work with the guys and not talk down to them,” she said. “Show them you respect them and their work site knowledge. I learn from them every day about safety.”
Wilkinson’s interest in and commitment to construction safety comes from personal experience.
“My father was a general construction labourer,” she said. “One day, when he was 29 years old, he was onsite, carrying a load of wood. He stepped backward into a small hole and fell, with the wood dropping on him. It broke his back. He lived, but had to endure a number of surgeries, and he never worked again in construction. I want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to another worker.”
ABS is a signatory to a unique initiative called Mission: Zero (MZ). MZ is a program of WorkSafe Saskatchewan, a partnership between the Workers’ Compensation Board and the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.
It was launched in 2008 after it was reported that Saskatchewan had the second-worst workplace injury rate in Canada. MZ is a call to action for employers to achieve zero workplace injuries, zero fatalities and zero family suffering.
More than 620 companies and organizations have taken the MZ pledge.
Unlike most other construction industry associations, which shower their award accolades on projects and companies, Merit Saskatchewan recognizes individuals, such as Wilkinson.
“Employees are the unsung heroes of the construction industry,” said Merit Saskatchewan president Karen Low. “In the first year we made awards to employer companies, but, since 2013, only to employees. The reaction by our members has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Merit Saskatchewan’s awards have a light touch. A popular part of them is the humourous nomination videos and introduction videos for each category.
In 2019 there were more than 80 nominations for 9 awards. The 2019 awards dinner, which was attended by 320 people, took place at the Saskatoon German Cultural Centre, which was built by Quorex Construction Services Ltd., a member of Merit Saskatchewan.