“Herding pigs is a nightmare,” says Paul Cannington. “It’s a bit like herding cats. They go where they want, really.”
Cannington is a Health Safety and Environment (HSE) manager for PCL in Australia, where he helps keep project sites safe for people – and more.
On many PCL sites, managing wildlife is an everyday occurrence. Cannington regularly encounters everything from snakes to spiders to kangaroos to, yes, pigs.
His run-in with porcine interlopers came on a recent solar project built on farmland, the owner of which kept barnyard pigs.
“They got out and made their way to the solar farm,” Cannington says, “So we had these two adults and two little pigs running around the project. They weren’t dangerous, but they spent a couple days roaming the project field before we could herd them back to where they were supposed to be.
“You just gotta chase ‘em and they’ll run madly around.”
Cannington’s self-taught pig herding technique is just one of the ways PCL keeps everyone -- human and beast alike – safe on-site. When wildlife is found on a job site, he explains, the preferred approach is also the easiest one: do nothing.
“Actively moving an animal is usually a last resort,” he says. “Take snakes, for example – a lot of the time, a snake will find its way somewhere and herd itself, for lack of a better word. They call it self-relocation. You let it move to a place where there’s no one around.”
This live-and-let-live philosophy also guides Mel Rostron, HSE manager for PCL’s team in Texas, where he encounters rattlesnakes, wild hogs, coyotes, bees, and more.
“If we can leave ‘em alone, we do,” he says. “Eventually they’ll leave. There’s nothing out there that is aggressive and wants to harm you. It’s when they get cornered that they feel endangered and become dangerous.”
Cannington and Rostron are much more proactive when it comes to the bipedal side of the human-wildlife relationship. They take great pains to make sure every member of every crew on every project they work on knows how to safely deal with any wildlife they encounter in the course of their work.
“We cover wildlife safety in every weekly safety meeting,” says Rostron. “We change with the seasons – one day we’ll be inundated with bees. A month later it will be spiders. We also bring out experts to share their knowledge.”
One tip Rostron shares widely with his colleagues in rattlesnake-rich Texas is “kick it before you pick it.”
“It just means to kick something before you pick it up,” he says. “A piece of plywood could have a scorpion or a rattlesnake underneath it. In Texas, the rattlesnakes have learned that if they rattle much, a wild hog will eat them. So now they don’t rattle as much.”
Cannington’s biggest snake safety tip for his peers is to keep the site as clean as possible.
“If you keep your area tidy and remove the rubbish, it doesn’t give the snake an environment to live in,” he says. “That reduces the risk for everybody.”
Most workers on most sites are trained to notify their safety team when they encounter wildlife, and then avoid the animals until further notice. But PCL also offers regular training for those eager to learn more about safely handling members of the animal kingdom.
In Australia, for example, Cannington and his team bring in a contractor who runs a two-day snake safety program.
“Some people have issues with snakes, so we don’t make it mandatory,” he says, “But for people who want to get involved, we put it out there. I’d say we get around 10 volunteers on an average project.”
Rostron and Cannington also craft contingency plans in case a worker is injured by wildlife. Rostron, for instance, calls nearby hospitals at the start of a project to find out which ones keep antivenom on hand in case of an on-site snakebite. He also sets up networks of trail cams on job sites to observe the movements of wildlife.
Cannington and Rostron are both fascinated by the natural world and, at the drop of a hat, able to rattle off a seemingly infinite list of species they’ve seen on-site.
“We have a responsibility to look after the environment,” says Cannington. “Sometimes it’s a contractual responsibility, but the social responsibility always exists.”
In their appreciation for the natural world, the two are not at all unusual among PCL employees. John Poole, son of PCL founder Ernest Poole and long-serving co-chair of the business, was a major supporter of wilderness preservation projects. Ducks Unlimited, for instance, named an interpretive wetland in Alberta after him. John and his wife also played a major role in the creation of the largest private conservation initiative in Canadian history.
“We’re good stewards, you know,” says Rostron. “We’re PCL.”