The construction industry is often portrayed as a workplace where bullying and harassment may go unchecked. Even though the B.C. government passed Bill 14 in 2012, to amend the Workers’ Compensation Act to specifically address bullying and harassment, claims from the construction industry are only 2.3 per cent of the total.
From July 1, 2012 until Dec. 7, 2015, WorkSafeBC accepted 132 claims for bullying and harassment from B.C. workplaces, reported the occupational health and safety authority’s senior media manager, Trish Knight Chernecki. Of the 132 claims, only three were accepted from the construction industry. Workplaces with the most accepted claims for bullying and harassment was the service sector, with 59, followed by transportation/warehousing with 25, and retail, at 23 accepted claims. Despite three years of data, no trends have emerged, Chernecki said. WorkSafeBC defines bullying and harassment as, "Inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated."
A senior safety advisor, with almost 25 years of construction safety experience, isn’t surprised that documented reports of bullying in the construction industry are all but absent.
"I never expected to see a flood of claims," said Jeffery Lyth, who does contract work for the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA). "The nature of construction work is rough and tumble. People deal with it. They don’t talk about it."
While he recognized that bullying is happening, he also acknowledged that the efforts of WorkSafeBC and the BCCSA may have helped to stem some of the more egregious workplace behaviours. In 2013, WorkSafeBC approved three new policies directed at employers, workers and supervisors, to address workplace bullying and harassment. Around the same time, the BCCSA, working with the Canadian Mental Health Association, toured B.C. to address bullying and harassment. Since then, discussion/gripes about workplace bullying and harassment, or attention-getting cases, have been notably lacking, Lyth said.
"I keep my ear to the ground," he added. "I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I can’t point to any flagship cases."
One factor that’s helped to calm this type of behaviour is that with more women working in construction, men tend to be on their best behaviour when females are present, Lyth said. But, he pointed out, there are about 40,000 construction companies in B.C.
Of those, roughly 30,000 are two guys working out of a pickup truck and what goes on at such companies is typically unreported.
As well, a lot of bullying/harassment in the industry tends to also be unreported the further you get from urban centres, Lyth added.
Vancouver lawyer, Cheryl Otto, shares some of Lyth’s observations.
"For sure, it’s (bullying is) happening. It happens everywhere," said Otto, founder in 2012 of Ounce of Prevention Solutions (OOPS Inc.). "We don’t know what the scale is but to say it’s not, is naive."
If she visited a construction site, as a "secret shopper," Otto is positive that she’d encounter bullying/harassment.
But even though OOPS took part in two conferences in 2014 and 2015, where bullying was highlighted, no calls of concern followed from the participants, she said.
Yet, a 2006 study from the Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology found that 40 per cent of Canadian workers are bullied on a weekly basis. And a 2011 American study from CareerBuilder found that 27 per cent of workers reported they felt bullied in the workplace, with the majority neither confronting nor reporting the bully.
Segments that were more likely than others to report feeling bullied were women, workers 55 or older, and workers aged 24 or younger. Here in B.C., complaints to WorkSafeBC or to jobsite superiors, don’t happen because construction workers believe that if they speak up they will be fired, Otto said. Although, Otto recalled one recent contact with a woman working in construction.
"She was constantly dealing with bullying," she said, adding that her day was spent putting out fires
One factor that squelches reports of bullying is the focus to make money over-rides the mental health of employees.
"The construction industry has to work on changing their culture," she said.
It will happen with baby steps and require patience, money and commitment. As Otto pointed out, if an employee does complain, the cost of an investigation starts at $10,000 and can reach $80,000. One promising sign is that as older workers retire, the new generation are saying they won’t put up with bullying, Otto said. Lyth agreed.
"With the millennials, it (bullying) won’t be tolerated," he said. "It’s a continuous evolution." Since Bill 14 was passed in B.C,. and pink shirt day has become a popular annual event, bullies are increasingly being called out for their behaviour in some workplaces and settings. "I like to think, the (construction) industry has seen the writing on the wall," Lyth said.