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Then and now: NLCSA panel reflects on evolution of health and safety in construction

Angela Gismondi
Then and now: NLCSA panel reflects on evolution of health and safety in construction

It’s difficult to imagine a time when health and safety wasn’t a priority in the industry, but 25 years ago safety training was a hard sell.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association (NLCSA) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and in a panel discussion at its recent conference in St. John’s, current and former staff took a look back on safety training in the industry and how it has evolved.

“I think of the hurdles we had in those very early days, not only getting everything in place but then convincing, persuading, anything we could do to get people in the door to start their COR (certificate of recognition) training,” Dennis Hogan, the first CEO of the NLCSA and the current CEO of WorkplaceNL, told conference attendees.

“It was hard enough to convince contractors to have someone come for a full week of training…but you had to pay for the training and you had to go away and build a health and safety program. Ultimately you were going to be paying a levy on top of that, so imagine the sell job that had to happen.
“If you look at some of the statistics…the industry was in a crisis at the time, so the motivation was very high,” he added.

It was hard to convince people they would get a return on that investment. He recalls some of the early meetings he had.

“There were sometimes some tensions about how we would go about doing things, but fundamentally the agreement was there to move forward,” Hogan explained. “From the perspective that I have now all these years later, if it wasn’t for that passion and drive from the industry itself maybe it wouldn’t have worked and wouldn’t have got off the ground.”

NLCSA’s longest serving employee Allison Green said she spent a lot of time convincing people the NLCSA was not part of the government, they were part of the industry.

“My response was always, ‘yes, we are your industry,’” she said. “We are not forcing you, but we want you to come to us. We want to help you.”

One of the most pivotal moments for Hogan was when he was invited to speak at a conference he described as one of the toughest presentations of his life. He was making a pitch for the COR program.

“It was still early days and I was there to speak 30 to 45 minutes,” Hogan recalled. “About two-and-a-half hours later, probably closer to three, I finally left the podium. In that one presentation, more so than all the other ones that I did, I took a barrage of questions from a lot of people who doubted the validity of what we were trying to do. It just wasn’t part of the culture. It was something that was viewed as an imposition.”

Lloyd Hussey, a founding board member of NLCSA, said there was a lot of resistance to COR at the beginning, especially from private trainers.

“They did not like one bit that the industry was going to do this for themselves,” he said. “They wanted to be able to do this and a tremendous amount of political pressure was put on the government to stop this.”

Getting buy-in was key.

“Once we started to get that and people became COR certified…There’s something about having confidence, about knowing the difference, knowing what the act and the regulations say, how you apply occupational health and safety in this industry,” he said.

“The other thing that happened to us is that government transportation and works, as they were known, then Hydro, Newfoundland Labrador Housing, other buyers of construction made COR a requirement…That was transformational.”

Gary Tuff, NLCSA contract adviser and one of NLCSA’s first instructors, talked about how the training was received.

“Companies didn’t want to be there,” he said. “In the beginning we had large companies coming in doing training…These guys were very vocal in the classroom especially with COR.

“There was a lot of apprehension in the beginning, a lot of fighting in the beginning but that quickly changed.”

Training has come a long way over the years, Green said.

“We have changed and we have advanced,” she said.

“I’m extremely excited that we have a virtual platform available to our clients who may not want to leave the community or can’t because of snow or geography or job requirements. I see it going further than that. I see that we’re going to move into what is referred to as the metaverse when we can actually get into some virtual reality.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela

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