Safety First-SFC Ltd.

Traffic control, safety courses and products to reduce risk and protect roadway jobsites
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Lance Pelletier

Since 1993, Safety First-SFC Ltd. has been protecting road construction workers and passersby with integrated products, services and education programs. With locations in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the business extends its coverage throughout three provinces across Atlantic Canada.

Led by James MacDonald, president and founder, Safety First has built a reputation for a strong vertical of quality protection services and products for 23 years. With six existing offices and more on the way, the company offers flexibility and accessibility to contractors, utilities and other entities involved in horizontal construction.

“The public face of our company is the traffic control — the boots on the ground with stop/ slow paddles make up the majority of our business, I’d estimate 80 percent,” says MacDonald. “Then we get into the more glamorous stuff like teaching courses, which makes up around 10 percent. Then we have small-scale manufacturing, which is the other 10 percent.”

Staffing and supplying safe sites

Safety First’s full-service traffic control division offers personnel and product rentals on-site for road projects throughout the provinces it serves. The company makes manpower available 24/7, all year long, to the benefit and convenience of customers. While these services primarily target road construction, the team has also covered special events and filming.

Working in close communication with customers, Safety First develops comprehensive control plans using cutting-edge software. These plans, once established, provide guidance for the duration of the project, including necessary signage and equipment (such as road cones, arrowboards and barriers) as well as traffic flow throughout phasing.

The company’s employees are highly trained via in-house class offerings. These educational programs are also available to customers and target the needs of attendees. Safety First’s course offerings include more than 30 safety programs, available on demand.

When it comes to products, Safety First’s tagline is “We make it, we use it, we sell it.” The line includes regulatory and temporary condition signs, aluminum sign blanks, posts and stands. Traffic drums, cones and delineator posts, flashing arrowboards and trailers, personal protective equipment and other items designed for durability and function.

Reliability in demand

With an integrated approach to road construction safety, it comes as no surprise that Safety First has a long list of repeat customers. “We deal in repeat business and referrals,” explains MacDonald. “We’re not looking for one-off business. Our target market is the big companies, the contractors doing utility work — little paving outlets won’t do it.”

By building lasting relationships, Safety First has been able to grow sustainably throughout its three-province footprint. The business is breaking ground this spring on a new office in an old location in Moncton, New Brunswick.

“It’s actually our oldest office,” explains MacDonald. “We’ve always rented there, it’s just that we’re not a massive business so we can certainly keep our eyes on the prize and watch things. For a big company, it might be more efficient to rent. For us, it’s not that inefficient to build, settle in and watch our equity grow. We’re there for the long haul, we’ve been in Moncton since ’95, we started the company in ’93 and we’ve been renting for a lot of that time. So this is an investment for use and building our assets is all part of the game.”

The Moncton location is not the only area of physical growth for the company. Safety First recently opened a location in Gander, Newfoundland. “We weren’t looking for business — the power utility came to us,” recounts MacDonald. “They don’t have a good selection of service providers in our field, so we just went through some negotiating; by the end I knew they needed us. We got the business and here we are.”

The expansion in Moncton serves as an excellent example of how Safety First grows organically. MacDonald explains that when his team moves into a new area, the company’s reputation precedes it. While the company may start out in a region serving only one client, other potential partners hear about it and seek out Safety First’s comprehensive products and services.

Diversity’s reward

The company’s broad reach and manifold in-house services have provided MacDonald and his colleagues with a distinct advantage. As with any business, diverse operations allow the company to shift focus in accordance with market changes — when one sector slows down, another often picks up. Particularly in the oil-heavy Canadian economy, this flexibility is crucial in a year when fuel prices have made a significant dip.

“When volume falls in one place, it picks up in another and gives you stability,” says MacDonald. “Four wheels are better than two, so we strive to keep more than two wheels on the ground. That’s why we’re into so many places and so many things.”

Safety First’s manageable size and small-company philosophy toward business keeps the diverse operation running smoothly. MacDonald takes great pride in his team, which places emphasis on safety and customer satisfaction. With new venues opening in Atlantic Canada, Safety First-SFC Ltd. aims to continue a tradition of quality service throughout future expansion initiatives.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Bell & Grant Insurance