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The 5(ish) Products that Saved Our Business


We’ve mentioned that we’ll be out of the office for the 2016 Christmas holiday—but that doesn’t mean business shuts down completely. As Boreal has grown, we’ve implemented a number of tools that will help our business to stay running even while we’re away.

We know firsthand the importance of scaling smartly, so we wanted to share with you the tools we can’t live without. These tools make running our business easier, save us time, and let us focus our energy on serving our clients—or spending time with our families during the holidays—instead of dealing with administrative hassles all day.

Microsoft OneDrive is our file-sharing tool. Before OneDrive, we had to be physically present in the office, at a specific computer, to access the files we needed for ourselves and our clients. Now, we don’t need to come into the office if a client needs something right away: we can access all our files no matter...

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Proof That Canadians Really Are the Toughest


Winter descends in Alberta this month, which means we’re all about to be bombarded with boring seasonal information to dress warmly and take appropriate breaks to warm up on the jobsites. It’s important information, sure, but this is Canada, after all—we’re used to winter!

Winter in Canada vs. Elsewhere

Canadians have adapted to winter weather in so many little ways, it’s almost hard to see them without a comparison to other countries. For one example, just take a look at this map of how much snow it takes to cancel school across different parts of the US. Canada’s on the map, too, but it’s one color all the way across—with the highest amount of snow needed before school is cancelled. In Edmonton, we might take it even further than others jurisdictions because a teacher once told me (Deidra) that they will never close a school for snow. A big difference from the southern US, where even the threat of snow can be enough to get...

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You’re Doing Safety Orientations All Wrong


How would your employees describe your company’s safety orientations? Interesting? Engaging? Or just something they had to sit through so they could start working?

If that last one sounds about right, you’re not alone. Safety orientations are given at the beginning of an employee’s time with a company, either individually or in groups—and they have a bad reputation for being boring. It’s unfortunate, because it’s not necessary! Too many companies are going about their safety orientations all wrong.

What Safety Orientations Should Be

On the surface, safety orientations have a straightforward purpose: to teach new hires about the safety requirements of the company and the job they’ll be doing. But done right, a good safety orientation has a lot more to offer.

Beyond just safety requirements, safety orientations serve as a way to introduce the safety culture of your company to new hires. They show new employees the importance and place of...

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When Culture Meets Safety Culture


Canada has always been a diverse and inclusive country, and our workplaces are reflective of our general population. Different cultures mean different languages and viewpoints at work — which gives us all the opportunity to embrace a commitment to clear communication.

Safety is one area where communication and training are crucial, so it’s an area that is especially important to address directly.

Work Safety Cultural Challenges

Some safety challenges that can result from a mix of international cultures within a company can include:

  • Language barriers. If supervisors and employees aren’t fluent in the same language, it can lead to frustration when communicating, or even to misunderstandings. And if employees have trouble with the language that training is presented in, they might not fully grasp what is being taught.
  • Perception of risk. It’s possible that someone’s national and cultural background can affect how they perceive risk. This can...
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Qualified doesn’t mean competent


“What’s the difference between being qualified and being competent?”

This was a question posed to us recently, and it’s a pretty important one. The terms aren’t interchangeable, but it can be tough to figure out where one ends and the other begins.

Qualified” is a little easier to define. A worker is qualified if they have the necessary qualifications for the job they’re performing. Depending on the job, qualifications can include education, training, experience, or some combination of the three. Qualifications can often be proven through degrees, certificates, licenses, or other physical documentation.

Worker competency, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Alberta’s OHS legislation has a definition of the term that includes three parts:

  1. Being adequately qualified
  2. Being suitably trained
  3. Having enough experience to perform work safely (with minimal or no supervision)

So having the proper qualifications is a big part...

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“Economic downturns have been good for us”: Ron Schram on how to leverage the boom-bust cycle


This month, we’re talking with Ron Schram of Schram Crane. Ron founded the company in 1997, which means it’s coming up 20 years in business! That doesn’t happen by accident, friends.

Schram Crane provides training courses in crane and rigging safety. Ron started the company after nearly 30 years of experience in the industry, including working in lift planning and senior management. When Schram Crane first started, Ron envisioned it as a consulting company.

“I started out overseeing critical lifts for my former clients that I had when I was in the crane industry,” he says. “So they knew me, knew the deliverable, and didn’t hesitate to hire us to come in and oversee a lift for them.”

But that only lasted about a year before an opportunity arose that changed the course of the business.

From Consulting to Training

In 1998, an oil sands company that Schram Crane was overseeing lifts for asked them to train their engineers in...

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The world’s best safety glasses


Have you ever heard the claim on a job site that wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) makes workers less safe? I have. The idea seems to be that wearing PPE makes us more willing to take risks, and more risks means more accidents.

Of course, not only is this idea inaccurate, it can also be dangerous. When construction professionals start to think that their protective gear is hurting, not helping, they might be less likely to use it. But PPE is required for a good reason, and over the years it’s had a significant and positive effect on jobsite safety.

Advancements in PPE technology are being made all the time, leading to gear that is safer, more comfortable, and better suited for the tasks workers need to wear it for. I found this out for myself just recently, when I discovered something I had started to think didn’t exist: a pair of over-the- glasses (OTG) safety glasses that are both functional and comfortable.

I (Dean)...

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3 ways to stay busy in slow times

It should be obvious by now—we love showing off our great clients. And we love learning from them! This month, we’re sharing some more great tips on prospering in a down economy, brought to you by Halie Zasada of Mid-City Construction Management.

Mid-City is a civil contractor in its 36th year of business. They have three divisions: excavating, underground services, and paving. Halie is a paving project manager and estimator, and she talked with us recently about the busy season Mid-City is having right now, how they’ve earned that growth, and how Boreal has been helping sustain it.

Here are three ways Mid-City is prospering in a downturn:

1. Focusing on Long-Term Relationships

Halie Zasada: One of the biggest things for Mid-City is that we have a lot of long-term relationships with a lot of clients. We just started a paving division last year, and a lot of the work that we’ve gotten has been through those long-standing relationships. Now that we have an...

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Who’s the boss? The privilege of self-regulation


The term “engineering” covers a wide range of fields and careers, but they all have one important thing in common: across Canada, engineers are self-regulated. Instead of being regulated or licensed by governments, engineers and engineering companies are under the jurisdiction of professional organizations in each province. In Alberta, for example, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) regulates professional engineers.

APEGA awards licenses and permits—and the use of the term “professional engineer”—to individuals and companies if they meet certain professional, ethical, and technical competency requirements. The main goal of APEGA, and its counterparts in other provinces, is to ensure public safety.

In protecting the public, one of the functions of engineering associations is to investigate engineers and companies when something goes wrong. Engineers who fail to meet the standards set by the organization...

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SWP? JHA? FLHA? PSI? WTF??? Navigating the confusing world of safety terminology


Every industry is full of its own unique terminology—words, phrases, and acronyms that are familiar to the group that operates in it, but mostly a foreign language to everyone else.

Safety terms, on the other hand, have the potential to confuse EVERYONE. They’re a completely different ballgame. A very confusing ballgame, in fact, where every inning the announcer describes the plays in a different way, and you’re left trying to decipher what’s actually happening down on the field.

That would be a frustrating way to experience a game, and it’s a frustrating thing to deal with in your business, too. Not only are many current safety terms interchangeable, they can also change over time, making it a total headache to keep up with them all.

Some Confusing Terms

Time for a pop quiz! (Don’t worry, it’s not being graded.)

Question 1: Which of these terms sounds most right to you?

  1. Pre-job safety instruction (PSI)
  2. Field-level hazard...
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