Alberta ironworker wins national award

In 1998, Elise Mailloux became Canada’s first female ironworker. Now, she’s an award-winning ironworker.

Last month, the General Presidents’ Maintenance Committee for Canada and the National Maintenance Council for Canada held their annual Canadian Safety Achievement Awards, and an Alberta ironworker was one of the recipients.

The Craftsperson of the Year Award is reserved for skilled tradesperson who are members of Canada’s Building Trades Unions who shows outstanding craftsmanship, professionalism, and safety leadership through their performance or contribution on a maintenance job.

One individual is selected each from Eastern Canada and Western Canada.

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The 2023 Western Canada recipient was Elise Mailloux, an ironworker employed with Connect Group Inc. in Northern Alberta at Suncor, Syncrude, and CNRL locations. Mailloux is a member of Local 720 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.

Starting her labour history in the hospitality industry, Mailloux made the switch to the trades, first with carpentry and then roofing. After taking a course and apprenticeship in welding and ornamental/structural ironworking, she fell in love.

She made history in 1998 when she became the first fully certified female ironworker in Canada, or the first to be fully certified in structural and ornamental ironworking and welding.

Mailloux was a critical part of Connect Group’s work in 2022, having played a role in all their major maintenance scopes, which included rigging and hoisting, heavy lifts, working at heights or in confined spaces, and working around rotating equipment, things she’s an expert at.

According to GPMC/NMC, Mailloux is recognized at the start of each shift for her field-level hazard assessments, documenting task-specific hazard potentials and implementing corrective actions to help keep coworkers safe.

“Efficiency is safety; by being efficient we cut down on the risk exposure,” Mailloux told The Alberta Worker. “Union tradespeople are ready: trained ready, skilled ready. When you know what you’re doing, there is no risk.”

She actively participates in daily toolbox talks, safety meetings, and site discussions, and she is a strong advocate for personnel not necessarily comfortable with being heard.

“Elise’s contributions to health and safety are significant in the sense that she not only identifies opportunities for improving systems and processes in the interest of worker protection,” said Connect Group’s vice president of construction and project development, Jesse Johnson, ”but she leads by exemplifying safety and professionalism in every activity she is involved in.”

GPMC/NMC listed several examples on their website regarding Mailloux’s work ethic and commitment to safety, but one in particular stands out:

Connect Group was awarded an apron feeder rebuild project which had not previously been completed and was a new design that most were not familiar with. During the pan installation bolt-up process Elise was instrumental in ensuring all pan bolts were installed correctly. This project presented some obstacles due to design and we had many apprentices, as well as journeypersons with limited experience with apron feeder rebuilds. Improperly installed bolts can cause equipment damage and premature wear of components. Elise’s quality of work is always second to none and she ensured her coworkers completed all the tasks correctly. The assembly of this apron feeder was completed without any issues or rework and Elise was a major factor to these results.

“Elise leads by example. She is always the first person out working, and she never shies away from any task,” said Ryan Crawley, a construction manager at Connect Group. “She sets the standard of the work ethic and quality expected from all workers. Her knowledge, expertise, and attention to detail in her trade has made her a highly sought after worker to have.”

The award includes a golden work helmet and a $5,000 cash prize.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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