Friday, May 7, 2010

Teck, Training and Terrifying Students

I don’t know where to even begin with this blog. They say to just start at the beginning and go from there, so I guess that is what I am going to have to do. This could take a while.

Ok, so on Wednesday I had my first day at Cominco (or Teck, depending on how familiar you are with the company). Since most of the people who read this blog are from PEI or the Maritimes, I will give a quick overview of what this company is. Teck is Canada’s biggest mining and mineral processing company. It owns a whole bunch of mines all over the world and has the coal shipped to Trail where it is taken to its designated area and it is processed. The company in Trail mostly focuses on zinc and lead, and is one of the world’s largest zinc and lead smelting refineries. Teck actually provided all of the metal to create the Olympic metals in Vancouver this year. Pretty cool little tidbit of information there for all of you. Basically they make millions of dollars a day by producing tons of different kinds of metals. The company hires about 50 students every summer as summer relief for the workers who work there, pays them all very well and dispose of them when school starts up again in the fall. Sounds good.

Like I mentioned, Wednesday was my first day up on the hill. It was a rather boring day to say the least. The first half of the day consisted of signing lots of documents, such as tax forms, proof of WHMIS, assurance that we will not ask for a job at the end of the summer, we can’t sue if we chop off an arm, how much money our beneficiaries get if we are killed…you know, the important stuff. After that was all complete, we were lead to the “Special Training Area” where we sat for the second half of the day and listened to people talk about safety and all of the free courses that are available to us, plus we got fit for our respirators and safety glasses….and so on and so forth. There are 5 pieces of equipment that is mandatory to work in any of the plants up there; hard-hat, coveralls, eye protection, safety boots and ½ face respirator. I have to admit; I look pretty sexy in the get-up. It was a moderately straight forward first day. After work I headed up to Pam’s house and we took the dogs for a walk down the mountain. She showed me some awesome paths that I wasn’t aware of which decreased my one hour and 33 minute hike down to one hour and 20 minutes. After I got home I went straight to town to go to yoga with Sarah and Aunt Leslie. Busy day!

Day number two of training was a bit of a drag. What Teck wants to drill into our heads is that safety is the #1 priority of the company and that the last thing that they want is to have a student hurt or killed during their time there. We did course after course and quiz after quiz that day. Here’s a quick overview of what I got trained in that day: Field Level Risk Assessment, Green Hands Program, Union and Safety, Safety Program, Environmental Awareness, EtQ Document Control, Corrective Actions and Training Systems, WHMIS and MSI. There was a lot of sitting yesterday. My butt was less than happy by the end of it. After I got off work I took Rizzo for a nice walk and did some Kempo X to get my body moving. Sitting for 8 hours straight sucks!

So today was day 3, which consisted of Lockout Training (very confusing as first, but I eventually got the hang of it by the end of the day), Asbestos Awareness and a Lost Youth video, which was basically a movie to scare us into not doing something stupid on the job and to ensure that we always ask questions if we are unaware of what to do in a situation. We also got fitted for our coveralls and shower sandals, and were shown where our lockers would be. Some people had to go to the clinic to get blood tests done to watch blood lead levels throughout their time at Teck. Breathing in lead is a HUGE problem up at there, so they take blood tests of the people who will be working within close proximity of lead, and continue to take samples while they are employed to ensure that blood lead levels don’t get into a dangerous range. As a kid, I remember times when we couldn’t run outside at recess/lunch because there was so much lead/pollution in the air that they didn’t want us breathing hard because that would cause us to breathe in more of the deadly dust in the air. Pretty scary stuff! Nowadays there are so many more restrictions and regulations that have made the company cut way back on what they can pour into the air for the community to breathe it. I think that all kids are allowed to run these days . So that was my today.

There are a lot of things about Teck that have impressed me since I began my employment there. Growing up in the area, I always had the thought that Cominco was always just this big dirty place that made metals, stunk of the town and polluted the air. Yeah, my dad has worked there since he graduated high school and it was his paycheck from that place that fed us and kept a room over our heads, but I never really truly respected the place until now. Sounds a bit silly or whatnot, but it’s true. The guys who work up there have difficult and scary jobs and they do it day in and day out to the very best of their capabilities. We heard horror story after horror story of the awful things that can happen to a person if they’re not careful in the workplace, and it was scary to hear what happens to these people. I always thought that Cominco was intimidating to look at when I drive by; but now that I am involved in it and get to go into the buildings and see what’s going on, it’s even more scary!!! There are walls made out of pure asbestos in that place! I liked watching the videos that showed how metals such as silver, gold and zinc are separated and created into bars, which are in turn sold to other companies. It’s a cool process.

On my first day of training, one of the first things that I noticed was the huge difference between the types of people teaching me this stuff compared to the professors who teach me material at school. The guys who are training us as Teck are men who started working there when they are in their late teens and after 30 years of working as tradesmen for the company have moved into training new and existing employees. They’re not highly educated men and they use everyday slang and simple words to explain everything to us. It was like listening to my dad talk for 8 hours. It was fun and refreshing to listen to these men rather than the professors who use big fancy words all day. The only big words that came out was when we looked into the MSDSs for certain chemicals and compounds which could be found on the lot.

Honestly, I can chatter on and on about the cool things I learned and saw the past couple days, but one thing that was truly interesting that we discussed quickly was how the heavy water needed to create the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was produced in the heavy water plant in Trail. Heavy water is similar to regular water except that is has more deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and is 11% denser and is a major component of nuclear energy. I won’t begin to pretend that I understand how it all works. If anyone reading this has a spare couple of minutes, look up "Manhattan Project" and have a quick read. It's really interesting.


  1. Hi,
    The picture of the twin stacks puffing out smoke or steam was not taken at the Trail smelter. I'm sure you know that. I am not sure why you would use it other than to be dramatic. That's misleading and discredits blogging as journalism. It seems your entire post is aimed at drama "Trail helped kill a lot of people". Seriously? I think you could achieve your blogging goals without the drama (and misinformation).

  2. Sorry that you took the information in such a negative way. I was 100% impressed with the whole place. Cominco destroyed all natural habitat at one point (hence the super smoke spewing picture) but it's doing great things to make the world greener and less polluted. And I really don't think that one picture leads to such immense misinformation as you seem to believe it to.

  3. Having the right paperwork definitely has a good effect on both the employee and worker. Getting the right safety course is definitely one of the ways to avoid yourself getting killed while on the job.