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Fall arrest company lands CN Tower contract

June 1, 2012
by Scott Haddow
In: Supplier Showcase with 0 Comments

When Marc Desjardins quit his job as a senior manager with forestry company Tembec, he had high hopes for success as an entrepreneur.

When he started his business, Highwork, in the basement of his house in 2004, he had no idea just how high he would climb.

Based in Sudbury, Highwork designs, builds and installs engineered fall protection systems for the mining, pulp and paper, construction and entertainment industries. In the course of seven years, Desjardins, president and CEO of Highwork, has built a reputation as one of the best in the business.

Last year, the company finished its highest profile job, providing the fall protection system for the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk attraction in Toronto.

“I have no problem being accountable for my work. It is my driving force and people know that,” Desjardins said. “I realized in the late ’90s there was a niche market for this. I decided to go out on my own. I was always an entrepreneurial spirit. I like to do things the right way, and my way. We are, arguably, one of the top dogs in Canada and top five in North America for fall protection systems. The way we did it was by doing excellent work and through word-of-mouth. We do the jobs other companies walk away from.”

Highwork designs, manufactures and installs fall protection systems in the form of cables, rigid rails or a single point anchor. The company also provides training.

Highwork has been all over North America in various industries making sure if people do fall, they don’t fall to their death. This diverse experience has become a calling card for Highwork.  A few summers ago, the company did a job for the Walt Disney Company involving 6,000 feet of protection systems. The next year, it did a job for the popular television drama, Grey’s Anatomy, for stage workers. Last year, Highwork put in 6,000 feet of systems in seven days at a steel mill in Quebec. From railroad companies to atomic energy companies to amusement parks to mining, Highwork has been heavily involved in saving lives, and this is what makes Desjardins beam most with pride.

It makes him feel good to know that people around the world are working in safer conditions because of his systems.

“We have two fall arrests on our systems,” he said. “Two people lived and went home to their loved ones because of our systems. This work is about saving lives, so it makes me feel good to know we have done that. I love it.”

The EdgeWalk attraction at the CN Tower is the jewel in Desjardins’ crown. It was a seven-week job and one that had him smiling from ear-to-ear the whole time.

Desjardins enjoyed the experience, probably more than most other people. He doesn’t scare easily if at all and isn’t complacent about his work, but his fear of heights is long gone.

He enjoyed taking a stroll with Canada Lands Company CEO Mark Laroche on EdgeWalk before it opened to the public. While Laroche clung to the outside of the tower and his knees shook uncontrollably, Desjardins calmly walked around the outer edge as if he was taking a stroll through a park. Desjardins also liked the fact he would go to work and it would be cloudy and rainy, but once they got up to the EdgeWalk attraction, they were above the clouds and it was bright and sunny.

“It is dangerous work,” he said. “I went to EdgeWalk to get a rush, but I don’t get rushes anymore. The fear is gone. EdgeWalk has helped us gain notoriety. I admit it, I’ve been on other jobs and I name-drop EdgeWalk. It is definitely a positive for us.”

When Desjardins started in 2004, Highwork was a one man operation. The company has now grown to 12 employees and a full-sized shop in Sudbury. There are also distribution partners across North America, which help give Highwork an international flavour and bring in more jobs. Plans for expansion have been halted for good reason.

“I want 12 more employees,” he said with a chuckle. “But, believe it or not, I am controlling and slowing down the growth. The problem is finding good people for this industry. You need good people because there are lives at stake. I won’t grow with the wrong people. Anyone I hire has to jump off a tower before they start. It takes a special breed to do this right.”


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