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Associations, OH&S

What’s new in construction health and safety R&D?

Peter Caulfield
What’s new in construction health and safety R&D?

The BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) knows how to keep busy.

In addition to providing training, consulting services and a wide range of safety resources, BCCSA also funds research and development (R&D).

The money comes from the organization’s Research, Development and Opportunity Fund (RDO), a special account that enables BCCSA to respond to challenges not addressed in its annual budget.

Managed by executive director Mike McKenna and the BCCSA’s board of directors, RDO supports new partnerships, research projects and other activities relevant to construction health and safety.

“BCCSA funds research studies because we need good data to make good decisions,” said McKenna. “Before a problem can be fixed, it has to be understood.”

A recent project funded by RDO is a study by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Population and Public Health on the effectiveness of dust control on construction sites.

Researchers are investigating how well shop vacuums protect workers from breathable crystalline silica.

Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay and in such products as bricks and concrete.  If fine silica dust gets into the lungs, it can lead to silicosis.

UBC researchers measured vacuum air flows and silica dust exposure on construction sites. They also collected data on the technical configuration and maintenance history of the vacuums.

Finally, they surveyed workers’ level of knowledge of shop vacuums and how to operate them effectively and safely.

Investigators found the age of the vacuum and the frequency of maintenance are important for ensuring sufficient airflow and keeping breathable dust exposure low.

“Researchers found that not all shop vacuums were being optimally used,” said Melanie Gorman Ng, BCCSA health and exposure scientist.

The investigators recommended training workers how to operate and maintain the vacuums.

“To be most effective, the vacuums need to be serviced frequently and their filters changed regularly,” said Gorman Ng. “Do-it-yourself repairs and customization of the cleaners isn’t good, and neither is the practice of cleaning the filters by knocking them against a hard surface, which can damage them.”

The organization will also package the results of the UBC research so it can be used by the construction industry.

“We’re creating a guidebook and online training course for safety officers and supervisors that will be available in mid-2022,” said Gorman Ng.

The dust-extraction-by-vacuum study follows an earlier collaboration with UBC that led to the development of BCCSA’s Silica Control Tool.

SCT enables construction employers to conduct risk assessments and put in place controls and safe working practices where silica dust is a hazard.

Using scientific studies and data collected by UBC researchers, SCT can predict the expected exposures to workers in a variety of situations with different construction materials, tools and tasks.

The tool is a web-based application, optimized for mobile and tablets, and can be found at

BCCSA is not the only health and safety organization that conducts R&D.

The Institute for Work and Health (IWH) is an independent, not-for-profit research organization in Toronto that works in two areas:  Preventing work-related injury and illness, and promoting recovery and work functioning following injury and illness.

Research results are then shared with others through a two-way knowledge transfer and exchange process.

A recent study of Ontario construction work sites found that the cost of providing ultra-violet ray protection by giving protective clothing and shade structures (portable canopies and pop-up tents) to workers was outweighed by the benefits of preventing skin cancer.

Ultraviolet radiation due to sun exposure is one of the most common causes of work-related cancer in Ontario. About 1,400 cases of work-related non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed every year in the province.

The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) in the U.S. says it funds research on “existing and emerging hazards to better understand the risks, analyze and interpret key data, and find practical solutions and approaches to protect workers.”

For example, university researchers funded by CPWR are evaluating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour safety training program and looking for ways to improve it.

An orientation to OSHA safety training standards, the course covers safety and health hazards on construction work sites.

According to an outline of the project, although the OSHA 10-hour program is the most widely used one for construction workers, it has never been thoroughly evaluated.

The goal of the research project is to identify the program’s strengths and limitations and then develop what it calls an enhanced training approach that incorporates the findings and current good practices in adult education.


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