Distinct similarities exist between hanging off the side of an ice cliff and clinging to the side of a frosty roof.
While one may be for pleasure and the other for workers in the construction and housing industries, the fundamental requirements to getting home alive remain the same – caution, planning and the proper use of effective safety equipment.
As an avid climber, Robert Crichton, owner/operator of T’NT Work and Rescue, has dangled off a variety of slippery surfaces . . . and he’s survived them all.
It’s the kind of history that fosters confidence in clients who come to him for safety equipment and/or training. Crichton never set out to be a walking, talking proponent of safety in the workplace.
|Kenton Friesen photo|
|Avid climber Robert Crichton made a smooth transition from climbing gear to construction and safety equipment.|
Instead, his sporting background (which also includes backpacking and cross-country skiing) led him to begin working at Whyte Avenue’s Track ’n Trail more than 13 years ago. The outdoor shop caters to Gortex-loving adventurers.
The mix of customers contained a significant number of high-rise window washers and contractors in search of small quantities of safety equipment – one carabiner, one rope and one harness.
Crichton says people weren’t getting the service they needed from larger equipment suppliers.
In some circumstances, and with proper education, climbing equipment can be used for fall arrest and rope-rescue operations, but Crichton saw an opportunity for sales in industry-specific safety products combined with a training division to ensure proper usage.
Eight years ago, he founded T’NT Work & Rescue as a symbiotic separate entity to Track ’n Trail, maintaining his managerial position and sharing retail space with the store until the spring of 2000 when he moved upstairs to the office space above.
Establishing a respected centre for safety training is a chore in Alberta where anyone who’s taken a makeshift course can turn around and open their own training program six months later.
Crichton saw the need to establish standards for his apprenticeship, bringing U.S. safety guru Ritchie Wright up to Edmonton for four years to teach his subcontracted lead instructors the ropes.
The lead instructors now pass that information on to assistant instructors, most of whom work in the industry for which they provide safety training.
“My lead instructors are allowed to teach any aspects of technical rope rescue,” says Crichton. “The rest of them, including myself, only teach certain aspects.” He is the company’s only employee, but points out that his subcontractors give his business credibility.
“Everybody that works for me in the training side is more advanced than me. I’m not the jack of all trades,” he says.
T’NT facilitates a wide variety of class sizes, often customizing courses for an employer seeking specific instruction for workers.
The company has grown to about $300,000 in annual sales, largely through word of mouth and a conservative business philosophy.
“My (approach) is to sell people what they need – what they have to have – not what’s going to feed my kids,” says Crichton.
But the bottom line still matters, and Crichton religiously attends the annual provincial rescue competitions (similar to firefighter competitions) to market new and improved products. The competitors do the real selling.
New safety standards to be implemented by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (AOHS) this coming January will substantially increase the requirements of contractors in the province.
The regulations will hit small contractors the hardest, requiring many to pay out the $300 or more per employee for basic fall-arrest equipment.
But Crichton says the standards seem to be “good, enforceable and attainable for small business.”
Historically, safety for trades such as roofing, siding and framing has been left in the hands of the employer. Those with an appreciation of the long-term benefits of accident prevention have had their employees kitted out with equipment and training. But larger companies, with people assigned to assess the cost effectiveness and implementation of safety procedures, have led the way.
Eighty per cent of small companies don’t know what current AOHS safety standards are or how to get a copy of them, says Crichton.
“There is a trend with small businesses that companies come and go very quickly,” he says.
“Consistent use of fall arrest in the non-industrial side of things is very difficult because there is minimal continuity.”
There will have to be a lot of enforcement before the attitude of the tough tradesman softens to the restrictions of being tethered. But when the melting begins, Crichton will be there with rope and harness – and a word of secure advice.