For McMurray’s safety-conscious contractors

By Rajitha Sivakumaran

crogan-groupWhen the Fort McMurray wildfire broke out in May 2016, the entire population had to close up shop and leave. The Corgan Group, which specializes in construction and maintenance for residential, commercial and industrial sectors, was no exception. This time of difficulty tested the company’s strength in a number of ways.

Following the large scale evacuation, critical members of the management team headed to Edmonton, where they quickly set up office and continued on with business. Many of the companies employees were scattered across three provinces and some were still stranded on various sites. Being involved with big contracts for preeminent clients, Corgan simply couldn’t sit idly and wait for the fires to be over, especially since some of the sites needed Corgan to get their tool cribs up and running. The big challenge was to how to contact, house, feed and transport workers safely to the various sites as the fire raged on. Clem Organ, the company’s president and the whole family went above and beyond to accomplish this: they opened their own doors and saw to their employees’ needs by transporting employees to airports or to the sites, provided vehicles and accommodations, and removing whatever obstacle that hindered the company from accomplishing the goal. Corgan was successful in meeting the objective efficiently, and more importantly, without incident.

But that wasn’t the only situation where nature decided to test Corgan. Because of the evacuations, people had to be housed in camps. Making one such camp habitable fell on the company’s lap, but the team was given two weeks to set up 2,000 rooms. The first day employees went to survey the site everyone had to draw back due to the proximity to the wildfire. A few days later as the fire progressed further north, Organ and his team were able to head back to the camp, put an action plan together and soon afterwards the space was opened up successfully. “All of it was done safely without anybody getting hurt,” Organ said.

When the Corgan Group took the contract, the camp had been shut down and was in various stages of demobilization. For the better part of a year, it was in disrepair. “They gave us literally two weeks to rebuild something that was being taken apart. That was a Herculean effort,” said Will Graham, Business Development specialist at Corgan. The whole project involved an unusually extensive amount of coordination, organization and logistics as any materials that were needed Corgan had to transport up from Edmonton. Although Fort McMurray remained shut down, Corgan personnel needed to travel through the city to access the plant sites, which only heightened the safety risks and liabilities associated with the project.

Since its founding in 2006, safety has been the company’s top priority. “We do a business risk analysis on everything that we take on. We’ve turned down projects because they just didn’t fit our philosophy,” Graham said. Clients include big players like the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Syncrude, Suncor, Shell, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Husky Energy.

Just before the fire broke out, Corgan employees were down in the Peace River area, dismantling and transporting a 42-unit modular trailer complex for Shell to a Fort McMurray site. Each trailer was 12 by 60 feet in size and work progressed without a hitch. “We were down to the last four or five trailers when the fire hit,” said Organ. After a one- to two-week hiatus, the team resumed the work and again we finished the job safely with zero incidents. “We’re very proud of that. The team worked together,” he said. “The team is the company, it’s their company. It’s not my company, it’s a team effort Organ said, reflecting on how the company consistently collaborates as a whole to meet challenges.

The Corgan Group difference
Corgan does business primarily with local clients, but with the destruction of 2,500 homes and property damage in Ft. McMurray people are relocating away, which is becoming a problem. But even in these difficult times, the Corgan team is banding together. Not only are long-term employees staying put, they also have a strong sense of community pride to fight back and are committed to rebuild, says Graham.

In fact, the Corgan team is the key thing that sets the company apart. “We keep close to the workers, getting input from all of our employees,” Organ said. Even the executive team wears several hats and perform various roles. The relationship is so close that Organ guarantees that his workers can track him down easily and they often do, he says with a chuckle.

“We don’t have many excessive layers of management,” Graham said. “You can pick that phone up and you can call Clem, any of the upper management, or myself at two in the morning and we will answer that phone before the second ring is finished.” This philosophy resonates across the entire workforce; Corgan crews operate on the proverbial 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year schedule.

A top notch safety record and vertical integration are other factors that distinguish Corgan from its competition. In fact, one of the company crews has completed 260,000-plus people hours with no lost-time injuries. Typically, very few companies reach the 250,000-hour mark and maintain it, or many tend to accumulate this amount through a large number of workers. This particular group of only 25 employees from Corgan accomplished this feat, doing three and a half years’ worth of work without a single lost-time incident.

According to Graham, a lot of people throw around the word “vertically integrated”. “A lot of companies claim that they are vertically integrated and that isn’t really true. Corrigan is probably one of the few companies that is truly vertically integrated,” he said. In reality, companies claiming vertical integration operate multiple companies, but Graham says that Corgan is one company and it is self-sufficient. “So if I need an electrician, we use one of our electricians. I don’t go to one of my other companies and get an electrician. It’s all in-house,” he added.

The current challenge is that there are more workers, companies and service providers than there are jobs. The Corgan Group operates on six sites across the oil sands industry, but many industry giants are scaling back, cutting their own employees and contracting out services and projects. Unfortunately for independently-owned companies like Corgan, competition is fierce for work with big oil companies operating on First Nations traditional lands. .

Corgan is an Aboriginal company, and the owners, Elsie Cowie and Clem Organ, are proud that approximately 13 per cent of the Corgan workforce is Aboriginal. Corgan is also a Full Member of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA), although Graham says, “We are not affiliated directly with any bands. We are a solid independently-grown company. We are truly a grassroots General Contracting company that has worked its way up through the ranks surviving recessions, take-over bids and fires. Fort McMurray is home. ”

The company has becoming an expert at juggling customers, designers, sub-contractors, consultants and suppliers, while simultaneously expanding its areas of expertise. From home design and customization, industrial maintenance services and HVAC solutions, Corgan is rapidly growing despite the competition.