Safety 101: Abrasives

Welding students learn the ropes regarding abrasives safety, eliminating accidents to zero in three years


In 1941, the doors opened to the Canadian Vocational Training School. There, veterans looking to re-establish themselves in the private sector after having served in WWI found a new beginning. The school was set up to rehabilitate and train these returning soldiers through a vocational and academic curriculum. Eventually, the school would serve as the foundation for several more schools to take root.

Today those schools align to form Saskatchewan Polytechnic, which has campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon, all in the Saskatchewan province. Like their parent school, the participating educational institutions take their students’ well-being to heart.

At the Moose Jaw campus, programs include welding, carpentry and electrical engineering technology among others, such as accounting, cooking and business administration. Within the welding program, students learn about cutting processes; gas metal arc, gas tungsten arc and shielded metal arc welding; operating fabrication equipment; oxyacetylene fusion welding; quality assurance and using blueprints.

They also learn about general shop practice and shop safety. Since 2013, Norton/Saint-Gobain Abrasives has helped the instructors at Saskatchewan Polytechnic stay in compliance with safety and health regulations and, therefore, keep their students out of harm’s way.   

Parental guidance

“John, you have delivered this course for three years, and in that time we have not had one grinding accident!”

In addition to taking advantage of Norton’s safety training expertise, Saskatchewan Polytechnic uses a range of Norton’s grinding products.

Those are the words of Scott Parent, a Norton Abrasives customer and welding instructor at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Moose Jaw campus. Parent and the college welcomed John (J.R.) Kuntz, a Norton Abrasives salesman, as a guest instructor three years ago, relying on his expertise in abrasives safety to prepare welding student for safe careers in the trade. Parent – himself a welder with over 30 years of experience – has a long history of using Norton products.

As welders like Parent know, grinding operations are just as important to the production of a part as the welding process itself. For welding prep and finishing activities, the school relies on Norton’s abrasives, like the company’s grinding and cut-off wheels, wire brushes, and flap and fiber discs.   

“I love Norton discs,” Parent confesses in a phone interview. And because of his positive experiences using Norton Abrasives products, he was eager to do business when he first met Kuntz in 2013. During their initial meeting, Kuntz offered to train Parent’s welding students in abrasives safety, which is a service he provides for many of his customers.

And, of course, Parent seized the offer. “Our training institute relies on experts like Kuntz to help deliver a safe and relevant course.”

Class act

The first seminar was a huge success – in fact, even the welding instructors left better educated. Devin Milligan of Acklands-Grainger, the local Norton Abrasives distributor who co-sponsored the seminar, says, “With myself being a certified welding instructor and also being a journey person welder, this is an amazing course, even for the experienced tradesperson. Far and away superior to any of the others I have taken.”

In addition to covering the proper use of abrasives in welding operations, students are taught good habits such as bringing their grinders to the tool crib for repairs before problems arise. The abrasives safety seminars also go into detail about the clothing that students should wear to keep themselves safe whether they’re in class or at their future jobs.

An example of personal protective equipment (PPE) discussed in the seminars includes the use of welding helmets. Kuntz reminds students that not all welding helmets are created equal. Some, surprisingly, don’t have impact rated lenses, which can leave welders susceptible to injuries while grinding or welding metal.

To protect themselves from flying objects – not uncommon in manufacturing settings – students are encouraged to seek out helmets that come with a high impact rating. These ratings are covered by the Saskatchewan OH&S, an agency similar to OSHA in the United States. No matter the topic, Kuntz ensures that he’s delivering training that falls in line with the requirements that have been set by OH&S.

To no surprise, the seminar quickly became a mainstay in the curriculum at the college. “My class often comments on how engaging and interesting this course is,” Parent adds.

welding students
Graduates of Saskatchewan Polytechnic will enter their careers with a firm understanding of safety best practices thanks to Norton’s Abrasives Safety Seminar, which has been a cornerstone of the school’s curriculum since 2013.

Extraordinary results

Most importantly, the course is having tangible results: the number of grinding-related accidents and near-misses at the school over the last three years has been zero.

“These results are extraordinary because my students are right out of high school and many have never used any hand tools whatsoever,” Parent explains. But by graduation the students are highly proficient with abrasives, not to mention loyal to the Norton brand.

“It is common to encounter graduates of the program who remember me from the safety program,” Kuntz says, “which in some cases makes doing business almost effortless. Furthermore, having the endorsement of Saskatchewan Polytechnic has gone far with other prospective customers, often opening the door for us to deliver similar seminars.”

Kuntz’s seminars convey to his customers not only an expertise in abrasives, but also a genuine concern for customer safety. This customer-centered approach, paired with the industry’s best abrasives safety training, is setting Kuntz and Norton Abrasives apart as leaders in the central Canadian market, and at the same time fostering a smarter and safer work force.

Amazingly, what started as an ordinary sales appointment has since grown into a unique and effective partnership between Norton Abrasives, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Acklands-Grainger.

While imparting the industry’s best abrasives safety training, Norton Abrasives representative Kuntz is building familiarity and loyalty to Norton products among his students: Saskatchewan’s current and future generations of welders and grinders.


Norton/Saint-Gobain Abrasives

Saskatchewan Polytechnic

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