Construction Safety * What Is It

 Construction Safety * What Is It

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What is Construction Safety? I ask you this because I wonder if it really exists or is it just doing the song and dance so legislative principles don't order and impose fines on the ones who do the developing and hold the purse strings. The numbers and my own personal experiences might suggest the latter.  

I once took a JSA class at the Kearl Oil Sands  Project. We broke up into groups of four to write one out for the task of 'Changing a tire in the parking lot right outside during winter at 2 in the afternoon'. The group I was apart of consisted of the fire chief, an OH&S professional, myself  (a CSO/ OFA III) and this 22-year-old green hand labour. There was a one hour time limit so we better hurry. Right off the bat three of us had our collective heads just spinning and soon pen to paper started to fly. The task at hand sounded so simple until we really dug into it. Near the end of the time limit we had 6 pages of information, safety protocols, and a procedure down that would rival the top minds in the game. And that poor green hand was lost. We spent more time developing the procedures for the task then it would have taken to do the task. We bubble wrapped the world. 

The fourth in our group finally said "It's just a tire change". That's the other side of the coin. So many times we in the safety culture might be a little overzealous in our chosen profession. I myself included. That's what so many old timers see when we try to explain the changes made in the way we do things nowadays. Then we hear the gravelly voiced response of "I've been doing this way for 30 years and I've never been hurt"! So why the change in procedures? Why did we change the way we do so many tasks in the construction industry? 

OSHA states that "Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. The fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average in this category for all industries." In the province of British Columbia alone between the years of and including 2011 through to 2015, WorkSafe BC declares total claim cost in sector 72 'Construction' totaled $966,967,231, and  between the years 2010 and 2014, 735 people suffered  a fatality (all sectors included) due to workplace related activities. So far this year in the first 8 months in sector 72 construction,  27 workers have perished due to occupational diseases or accidents ( from my source at WorkSafe BC "this figure is only preliminary at this point). 

Some of the most noted who have been taken far to soon were a 31-year-old male who in  last February 2016 was buried while working in a trench in Coquitlam BC. A younger 26-year-old was crushed while placing concrete when the 60 meter pump truck tipped over and the boom came crashing down upon him. I personally orientated that young man on a 850 cubic meter pour 5 days earlier on a completely separate project. That whole crew was on my site.  And just recently a 25-year-old fell to his death in Saanich BC due to a fall from heights. He was 18 feet off the ground doing some painting. When he was found he was wearing a fall protection harness however he still was not adequately tied off.  

I myself was released from my position as site safety due to the Profits Over Safety mindset of a superintendent because I would question the lack of procedures of the tasks he initiated well after regular hour when I've gone home. The final act was when I refused to orientate and allow a 20-year-old man to enter the construction site. He had absolutely NO experience at all. He has never been on a construction site in his life. This was a 6 story condo complex a block long, 2 underground parking garages, 9 pieces of mobile equipment on site (not including dump trucks, concrete pump trucks and mixers), and well over 100 trades. But his lack of experience wasn't the factor. We all started somewhere and a Green Hand like this young man would be allowed to go and work after an in-depth new and young workers orientation. The superintendent even had issues with the time I took to do these informative orientations. The real factor of my decision was that this young man had only been in Canada for less than 30 day. He had an English comprehension of a 5-7 year old.  With a fluent 3rd party translator I'm quite sure he would have been given the green light. However both the sub and the prime contractors refuse to supply one.  So I stuck by my decision and was fired for it.  All this after I just finished authoring, developing and publishing the OH&S manual for the program I was administering while building it.

So I ask you again, "Construction Safety", what is it. Are we doing a good job or are we merely figureheads. The WorkSafe BC Regulations affirms  in part 20.3(2) If a work location has overlapping or adjoining work activities of 2 or more employers that create a hazard to workers, and the combined workforce at the workplace is more than 5 {that they must} (a)(i) appoint a qualified coordinator for the purpose of ensuring the coordination of Health and Safety activities for the location. So by law we have to be there. However we are paid by the Prime Contractor to coordinate the regulations set forth by the Governing Legislative Body and their own Occupational Health and Safety Program that in turn is mandated by law for them to have in place under 3.1 

Now don't take from this the industry is all full of cowboys who do whatever they want, because it isn't. Construction in BC is a safe place and there is no place I would rather be. Yet a few bad apples is what the media reports and that paints us all in a very ugly light. Keep in mind to that those bad apples, boards across the country now are taking some to court and judges are imposing jail sentences.  Such is the case of the 4 workers who fell 13 stories to their deaths at a Toronto high rise. On December 24, 2009 the Project Manager  was sentenced to 3 1/3 years in jail.  I used that accident in a full site safety talk and when I said that it was federal time he would be serving and that he would most likely be used as a plaything by some hardcore inmates, I could see a few eyes of some upper managers stop blinking and the site became very quiet.  I had  full attention OF ALL 135 TRADESMEN AND MANAGERS.

At the end of the day, I can only go by my own numbers that are reported to me. Such is the case of that last site. I calculated it out as an average of 155000 man hours in 13 months and I only had 82 minor injuries. That's because I walked the site and when needed reoriented the ones who needed it. I came up through the trades as a labour and mason. Been there and did that so one has to know how to express the safety culture to the ones who need it most. Just spewing orders and regulations never works. In one ear and out the other. So for that 30 year veteran of the trades, you have to pull at the heart and really make him think about it.  I tell him "We don't slide down I-beam any longer and we don't ride crane hooks,  because those days are long gone. And besides, don't you want to see your kids have kids, enjoy life and have a cold beer after work. Don't you wanna  watch future grandchildren grow up. A dead worker will never see that and those future grandchildren, they'll never meet you".  Most change their behaviors, but there is always that one because life isn't perfect. 

I guess things really started to change after tragedy in 1981. Triple 5 Bentall finally woke up the industry's structure to the common person. Four Journeymen Carpenters , Guenter Otto Couvreux 49, Donald Wayne Davis 34, Yrjo Mitrunen 46, and a young labour Brian John Stevenson 21, plunged to their death after  the fly form they were preparing for the final roof pour shifted and fell  36 stories to the street below. 

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With several years in Construction, a vast amount in Masonry, when I turned 40 it was time for a change. Occupational Health and Safety was a calling I wish I discovered when I was younger. With over 30 years experience now in the trades, I have a knowledge base I wish to pass on.

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