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May 25, 2023 ARCAN Case Study: How to be everywhere, at the same time

Erin Mitchell

The challenge:

The same one most safety managers face – supervising and communicating with workers across different sites throughout a region. But in the case of Arctic Canada Construction Ltd. (ARCAN), a general contractor working all across the northern territories, those sites cover an area the size of Europe. 

ARCAN’s remit is broad, encompassing the design and construction of commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings; housing for Inuit, fish plants, homeless shelters and men’s shelters, and historical buildings. 

Much of their work takes place in remote, fly-in fly-out communities with populations of around 300. Michael Wonderham is ARCAN’s EHS Manager, so the (actually, literally) impossible task of keeping tabs on 250 or so workers across myriad sites reachable only by plane, fell to him. 


The old way of doing things:

Every Sunday, all the safety documentation from the previous week would be faxed over for review. This could amount to hundreds of documents, and take all of Monday and Tuesday to catch up on. It was also a reactionary method of supervising safety; by the time he received documentation that disclosed a compliance issue or risk, the action would long since have taken place, almost defeating the purpose of filling out the document.

As Wonderham explains, “that's why we've gone with an online platform – I'm able to see what the guys are doing almost instantaneously, I can review their toolbox talks, and their hazard assessments across three thousand kilometers.”


How Corfix helps

One of the significant challenges for ARCAN is getting training to workers in remote areas. Unlike companies located in cities with a plethora of first aid course providers to choose from, communities like Lutsel’Ke or Pond Inlet don’t offer such options. ARCAN has worked with Corfix to build training components into their Corfix platform.

Using the digital system, when a worker fills out a field level hazard assessment form, for instance, they’re made aware of the required certifications and directed to the training they’re missing. The online course and test are conveniently available to them, and then the worker submits digital proof of completion and comprehension, such as a picture of them wearing a harness correctly accompanying their Fall Protection training course. This unconventional approach to training is an innovative adaptation to the nature of remote work where “you just don't go to the local office and pick up a course. It doesn't exist.” 

As well as making training material accessible to the worker, Corfix provides Wonderham with much better visibility into the training status of workers.  He receives automatic email notifications of all workers with expired or soon-to-expiring certifications, allowing him to coordinate with distant crews about who requires training, and who can and cannot currently perform certain tasks compliantly. 

Seeing documents like toolbox talks submitted in real-time gives an accurate snapshot of who is on site, and what they’re doing on any given day, and allows Wonderham to chase those workers down for field level hazard assessments and other safety forms to make sure ARCAN stays in compliance. 


The day-to-day, done digitally

Regarding the impact of the digital platform on ARCAN's workflow, Wonderham says that it makes his life so much easier. He has Corfix open as we talk, and can see one of his workers in a small, remote indigenous community in Port Simpson. He can see the worker's field level hazard assessment instantaneously and spot that they are doing some work at heights. Wonderham can inform the worker that they need to get additional training, which helps prevent accidents and injuries and minimizes liability. Under the old system, he says, “it would be next week or two weeks before I would have even realized that a worker didn’t have the necessary training for the scope of work that he was doing.” 


Thoughts on the future of technology in construction:

Wonderham observes that in the construction industry, technology has traditionally been viewed as a distraction. Cell phones were banned on construction sites when they first came out, though as cellular capability expanded and ubiquity exploded it became increasingly unrealistic to think a worker wouldn’t always have a phone on them. ARCAN has elected to embrace technology and to use it for good. Workers can use the Corfix platform for education, access their occupational health and safety manual sitting in their back pocket, and improve safety compliance.

The application of a digital platform, especially for companies working in the northern territories and across remote sites like ARCAN does, is like having an extra set of eyes and ears on site, without the arduous – and expensive – journey. Their site at Baker Lake is located at the geographical middle of Canada; but don’t let that fool you into thinking that “middle” equates to “central” in the sense of accessibility. According to Wonderham, it’s a two and half day journey to get there, and costs more than an all-inclusive vacation to Mexico. (I don’t ask Wonderham about the relative merits of the Baker Lake swim-up bar scene. I think I know the answer.)

Not only does that make it essential for him to be able to supervise remotely, it makes working safely an even higher stakes proposition. For instance, “if you get something in your eye in Calgary or Ottawa you can flush it out and go to the optometrist. Up there, you get something in your eye and you can flush it out and then we're going to have to air lift you out from there.” The difficulty of getting swift medical intervention means prevention has to be a priority, requiring easy access to safety information and as much transparency as possible into the conditions on site. 


The moral of the story

Your company’s situation doesn’t have to be anywhere near as extreme as ARCAN’s (and it’s hard to believe it could be) to benefit from digitizing your safety program. Traditional safety programs relying on pen and paper, physical interactions, and transportation of documents, fail to capitalize on the advantages of technology.  Want to learn how updating your safety program can save you time and money while making you more compliant? CTA.

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