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New NCSO designation in effect this month

Russell Hixson
New NCSO designation in effect this month

The National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) is a new national safety designation designed to replace a number of similar provincial designations and will come into effect at the end of this month.

It was approved by the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations after several years of discussion and consultation with stakeholders across the country.

The move is one that has been in the works for many years.

Mike McKenna, who took the reigns at the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) six years ago remembers back then how messy things were.

"There was an alphabet soup of designations," McKenna said.

His project started with the goal of making it easier for safety professionals to hop between Alberta and B.C. without having to spend a lot of time and money to meet differing requirements.

"I thought that it didn’t make sense and wanted to bring some standardization to it," he said.

He recalled a moment when a worker knocked at his door and mentioned that his company was going to take on a project in Edmonton but he didn’t have the proper designation and no ability to get it in B.C. so he was out of a job.

"That really spurred me on," he said. "I thought to myself ‘wouldn’t it be something if we could have a nationally recognized thing?’"

As of this year, every jurisdiction except Quebec has changed their designation to NCSO. McKenna said this is a huge accomplishment that harmonized all the training and experience.

"We now have something every province agrees is an entry level safety competency," McKenna said.

In November 2015, the Provincial Court of Alberta in Edmonton heard a suit brought by Western Refractory Services Ltd. against former employee Valerie Fowler. The suit was based on a claim for damages as a result of alleged misrepresentations of a worker’s qualifications for the position of certified safety officer (CSO).

The story begins five years ago, when Western Refractory interviewed Fowler for a CSO position. It was company policy to hire only CSOs. The worker told the court that she provided the company with a statement of completion from the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Construction Safety Coordinator course.

She was hired and went to work in March 2011 on a job site in Fort McMurray where Western Refractory was making repairs to a client’s oil refinery. She was terminated in June 2011. The worker contended she was dismissed because she had raised safety concerns related to the requirement for respirator fit testing.

A panel found that Western Refractory was in violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act when it disciplined her. It ordered the company to pay its former employee the amount she would have earned from the time of her dismissal to the end of July 2011.

Western Refractory responded by saying the worker owed $16,000 because she was not a CSO and had allegedly misrepresented her qualifications.

McKenna explained that the case illustrates the confusion the new designation aims to solve.

"Both parties were in an untenable position," said McKenna. "The company had no standard to hire somebody by, and the individual, if they had been a NCSO, would have come into market with defined criteria that demonstrated the skill set she had. That situation wouldn’t have happened."

In B.C., NCSO will replace the Construction Safety Specialist (CSS), currently offered by the BCCSA. The NCSO offers a number of benefits for both safety professionals and employers. For example, B.C. NCSOs may also be able to serve as internal auditors for the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program.

As of Dec. 31, 2016 all elements of the new designation will be in place and the BCCSA will no longer accept applications for the CSS program. Applications for NCSO will be accepted starting Jan. 1, 2017.

There will be a transition period to accommodate those who are in the midst of CSS course work, which will end on Aug. 31, 2017, after which the BCCSA will no longer deliver and promote CSS.

All provinces will require a suite of mandatory courses; each province and territory will also require additional training. In B.C. applicants must complete 10 mandatory courses — nine offered by the BCCSA and two (fall protection and first aid) available from other providers. Applicants must also complete two of eight electives.

Applicants will need to have direct construction and occupational health and safety experience for a minimum of three years. The training involves two exams: a provincial and a national exam. Both will be written and the passing grade will be 75 per cent.

The national exam will test on general health and safety knowledge as it relates to the construction industry, while the provincial exam will focus on provincial health and safety legislation. Exams will be offered at certain times of the year and there will be a fee to write them.

The time it takes to complete the program depends on each applicant’s time resources and course availability. Once the course requirements are met and the exams are passed, a three-year certificate with an ID number and the national NCSO logo will be issued.

The BCCSA also plans to publish the names of successful NCSOs on its website to raise awareness of the bank of NCSOs available. This will also allow employers to verify that a potential employee has a valid designation. The designation will need to be up-to-date by completing six hours of professional development within the three-year cycle of the certificate, maintaining COR Internal Auditor status and maintaining all required certifications.

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