Construction health and safety in Canada still a work in progress

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Because of time and molecular energy, nothing stays the same; everything changes.

Anyone who works in construction knows the ups and downs of the growth and decline of their industry, including the health and safety part of it.

“The mix of industries in Canada in the early 1900s, when workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety were being developed, was very different from today,” said Terry Bogyo , independent health and safety researcher. “In British Columbia, for example, coal mining and forestry were much larger sectors and caused more injuries than construction.”

Since then, as some industries have become more important and others less important, the legislative and regulatory framework has changed with them.

“The scope of coverage has evolved to recognize other workplace hazards,” Bogyo said. “Some of them, like harassment and bullying, have always existed but weren’t recognized as significant risks, while others, like COVID-19, are new.”

As further research identifies more injuries and harms, more risks will be included in the scope of coverage, Bogyo says.

“This will be especially true for occupational diseases where the nature of the agents is constantly changing and their causal importance will only become apparent with time and research,” he said.

Trade unions have played an important role in health and safety by demanding accountability from employers.

More recently, new associations have been formed for worker health and safety in individual industries.

The first industry safety association in British Columbia was the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA), which was founded in 1993, says Roberta Ellis, former senior vice president of WorkSafeBC and now president of BC Health Care Occupational Health and Safety. Society. (FARSHA is now called AgSafe.)

“About 20 years ago, WorkSafeBC worked with employers and industry unions to help create safety associations,” Ellis said. “It was part of a desire to form broader and deeper partnerships with employers and unions. Today, there are 13 industry safety associations in British Columbia.

In the beginning, there were two separate construction safety organizations, the BC Construction Safety Network and the Construction Safety Association of BC. In 2010, they merged to form the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA).

Joe Wrobel, president of JPW Earthworks Inc. in Vernon, BC and member of the BCCSA board of directors, says the formation of the alliance is the most important health and safety event in construction in British Columbia.

“Injuries and fatalities have been significantly reduced since its inception,” Wrobel said. “And the dangers in the workplace are becoming better known and can therefore be better protected against. The BCCSA is an agile and efficient organization that responds quickly to the security needs of the industry.

For example, in 2020, the BCCSA launched the SiteReadyBC (SiteReadyBC) Site Safety Orientation Program for new and junior construction workers.

“The goal of SiteReadyBC is to teach them how to protect themselves and their employers from injury or death on the job site,” said Erin Linde, director of health and safety services at BCCSA, who led the project. creating the program.

Participants receive training on 20 topics in the form of interactive computer-based modules.

“Students need to engage and actually learn something,” Linde said. “We want an employer to know that the worker has obtained this certificate. It’s not a difficult course, but it’s not easy either.

In Canada, there are a total of 13 organizations like BCCSA.

In Newfoundland, the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association (NLCSA) is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022, said Tammy McCabe, communications and industry relations manager at the NLCSA.

Like construction workers in the rest of Canada, their counterparts in Newfoundland and Labrador suffer from mental health issues that sometimes lead to suicide.

The association recently hosted a virtual roundtable on mental health and suicide prevention.

“The purpose of the forum was to engage with stakeholders in the construction suicide industry and explore the development of a suicide prevention strategy,” said CEO Jackie Manuel.

Over the past 20 years, construction employers across Canada have faced an increasing number of regulatory requirements, says Dee Miller, president of JJM Construction Ltd. in Delta, British Columbia.

“The biggest impact on safety was the Criminal Code amendment that assigned liability and now enforces due diligence with legal ramifications for everyone involved directing the work,” Miller said. “Employers now have more responsibilities and increased costs.”

On the other side of the ledger, she says, construction has embraced the shift from assigning blame to individuals to focusing on developing and implementing safety management systems, with audits to ensure compliance.

“Could the industry do better? Absolutely,” she said. “Occupational health and safety continues to be a work in progress.”

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