Oxbow– This year marks 20 years in business for Safe-Tee Management of Oxbow.
The safety specialty firm is owned by Shirley Galloway and her husband Jim. Over the years it’s grown to become a family business, with son Ryan now a construction safety officer through the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association.
“We really needed help,” Shirley said, and Ryan was brought in to do drug and alcohol testing. He’ since received a two year diploma from the University of New Brunswick in the field, as well as a Global ground disturbance instructor qualification.
Daughter Jayne, who is studying at the University of Calgary with the intention of getting a law degree, worked two summers as their front desk receptionist. Shirley still remembers those kids on her knee as as infants while she worked getting the business going in its early years.
“Jayne was 18 months old when I started. She grew up, literally, in the safety business.”
Jim, vice-president of operations, was also brought into the business. He had grown up in Oxbow, where his father and grandfather were both physicians. (The hospital in Oxbow is called the Galloway Health Centre.) He came on board, took an audiometric course, and has looked after audio testing, fit testing, operations, the vehicles and the buildings.
Shirley said she had been working as a nurse practitioner for 12 years with her own practice in a clinic in Winnipeg. They had intended to buy a family practice in Vancouver. They stopped in Oxbow on the way there and never left.
For the first 10 years, Safe-Tee Management worked primarily in the oilpatch.
“As we grew and became more known, we were asked to do construction and mining,” she said. That included major mining firms like Vale and Rio Tinto, working in Ontario, Manitoba, and northern Saskatchewan.
Now their work is about 40 per cent oilfield, 30 per cent mining, 10 per cent commercial agriculture, 10 per cent construction, and 10 per cent other.
The diversification helps when its slow in the oilfield. Some clients in the patch are still busy, she noted.
A year-and-a-half ago, they were getting three calls a week from new companies needing safety services. Now, it’s taken two months to get three calls, and those haven’t been from new companies, but existing ones.
Safe-Tee Management has nine people on staff, and hires additional contractors, such as medics, as needed. Currently, they have five medics on contract until June.
All their contract medics are active primary care paramedics, having taken at minimum a one year course plus practical experience. And she only hired people who have experience in the field. Their lead medic, Georgia Britt, has 20 years under her belt.
“I would never hire an EMR (emergency medical responder), have them sit on lease, and that’s all they’ve ever done. Experience is invaluable. I have a specialty in trauma.”
Her company has never had to deal with a mass trauma on one of their sites in 20 years. Traumas, yes, but not a mass one. She remembers one incident that occurred off their site. A driver, not wearing a seatbelt, went through the front window of their truck.
“When the proverbial crap hits the fan, I want my 40-year-old medic, with 15 years-plus of experience, whose still working car (ambulance) in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon; whose knowledge is fresh and can respond to a major incident without batting an eyelash. That’s what I want, and that’s what we have.
“It’s difficult when you have three-day fracs, 24 hours a day, getting everyone lined up, and on Sunday night the consultant phones up and says, ‘Oh, sorry, we couldn’t get the frac crew, we’ve got to push it back three days.”
Among the high points of being in business for 20 years has been the really interesting and diverse people she’s met. “I have met some really nice people who are hard working, driven, want to do it right.”
Watching the company grow, from just one person to, at times, 20 people, is another high point, as well as seeing their reputation spread.
During the boom times, they could have grown more, but she said, “It wasn’t my interest. I really enjoy being small.
“It’s a damn good question. I just didn’t t want to get that big. I didn’t want to have to be away from home. I didn’t want to have to branch out into different branches.”
They did have a location in Estevan for quite a while. They are actually in the process of establishing a Regina office now. But spreading themselves too thin was not desirable.
“Part of it, too, was the difficulty in these small towns of finding a manager who wants to stay.”
“Taking a slow and steady pace has allowed us to weather the other slowdowns we’ve seen, and allowed us to weather this one.”
They have had to lay off two people; one in the field, one in administration. “That’s just the nature of the beast. With the people we have now, we’re all busy,” she said.
Their two mobile treatment centres work up north, not on frac spreads, where staffing issues can be fickle and difficult when the timing of a frac can change at a moment’s notice.
Safe-Tee Management’s offerings are broad and diverse. While they do have two mobile treatment centres, a more significant part of the business is their safety consulting and safety programs. They provide training in numerous courses, from H2S Alive to pre-employment and Department of Transport drug testing and driver’s medicals.
More intense offerings include Certificate of Recognition (COR) and Small Employer Certificate of Recognition (SECOR) consulting.
Safety consultancy is a major part of their business. “I would say it is half. I do a lot of consulting. We now have, probably under our belt, 20 to 25 companies we’ve successfully helped get their COR. All of our clients have gotten their COR or SECOR successfully on their first go, and have gotten a good score. They can build on that as their safety program progresses.”
“That’s what differentiates us, our diversity,” she said.
Shirley is completing a masters degree (her second), this one in occupational health and safety. “I have a solid background in occupational health, a solid background in occupational hygiene; and so the safety part, through study and learning, and mentorship has just come along. I decided to back that up with academic.
“I have field people who can do the field work, who’ve worked the rigs, driving tank truck, treaters… I don’t need to do that. I have staff to do that. But when it comes to the program management, the writing, the practices, that comes from my extensive knowledge of the law and the legislation, and of course, the academic portion of occupational health and safety, it’s integral. You can’t have one without the other,” she said.
That extensive safety programming has also unfortunately led to some of the low points of the business: other companies and individuals blatantly plagiarizing their product, essentially stealing copyrighted material.
“Like any business, we’ve had some legal challenges. One of the biggest ones is copyright infringement. Over the years, it has been an issue where I’ll receive a safety manual from somebody because the oil company wants me to do a review. I’ll open it up, and sure as hell, it’s my manual, word-for-word, change the name. Probably out there there’s got to be at least 30 to 50 of my manuals that the invoicing has not come from me.”
One case is in court, and two more are under investigation by police. “That’s probably the lowest point,” she said.
It’s a lot more than ripping off someone’s MP3. These are 300-500 page safety manuals, her representation of her work for the last 20 years.
“It would be like someone taking a Harry Potter book, changing the name, and selling it as Sherry Potter.”
She doesn’t like taking the legal route, saying it’s “negative energy,” but there are points where a cease-and-desist letter doesn’t cut it.
Many people in the oilpatch have told Pipeline News that this slowdown has been the worst they’ve seen. She remembers that 1998 was a pretty bad slowdown too. The 2009 slowdown was hardly noticeable for their business, but she did notice an influx of Alberta companies seeking work in Saskatchewan in 2009.
“For us, because we’ve been around, we have a steady and loyal customer base. Our reputation really helps us. The other day I got a call because of word-of-mouth, a client I have in Weyburn recommended me to someone who wanted help with their safety.
“Just being around, having a good reputation, we never extended ourselves, slow and steady.”
The Regina expansion was planned before the slowdown, but they’re ready now to progress. It’s more in the occupational health area than safety. That expansion is planned for this year. It will clue in on Regina’s larger industrial base.
“Just like anything, we’ll weather this storm,” she concluded. “We’ll see how much longer it’s going to be. We’re not near closing our doors, that’s for sure. We’ve been prudent and conservative.”