Imagine arriving at a construction project and finding that a truck has crashed through the front entrance, the lobby was recently on fire and the basement is full of sewage. It’s all in a day’s work for British Columbia’s 140 fire and flood restoration contractors, who have found a voice as members of the BC Construction Safety Alliance’s (BCCSA) Fire & Flood Restoration Program Technical Advisory Committee.
The committee dates back to 2005 under the British Columbia Association of Restoration Contractors (BCARC), which amalgamated with BCCSA in 2016.
“There’s a special need for a committee serving this construction specialty area,” says Candice Brown, a safety and injury management advisor at BCCSA and facilitator for the committee. “They have different health and safety challenges than other contractors because they deal almost entirely with emergency work. If there’s a fire or flood they’re called in early and the health and safety planning must be completed much more quickly.”
As a working group, the committee develops health and safety resources, and identifies emerging trends in the sector. That effort helps all members, particularly smaller restoration contractors who don’t necessarily possess the same health and safety resources as larger companies.
The committee’s achievements to date include:
- developing a site safety assessment form, course and instruction guide;
- developing industry-specific courses, including a partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety to deliver no-cost online safety training; and
- Creating an infographic that incorporates health and safety statistics related to restoration contractors.
Committee member Heather Driessen, safety officer with Phoenix Restorations, has been working in the business for 20 years. She recalls a time when the industry was less unified in its approach to health and safety.
“Everybody was working in the same industry, but we weren’t applying the rules the same way,” she says. “The committee has become a health and safety resource for restoration companies large and small. Now all members can understand the regulations and have access to our free training program for their employees.”
Driessen is proud of the committee’s site safety assessment form, which not only helps individual contractors assess workplace hazards, but also allows them to do so in a way that can be understood by other contractors entering the work site.
“If we’re on site for the project and another contractor arrives to remove the homeowner’s contents, everybody understands the hazards that have been assessed in that space,” she says. “Everybody understands the form and everybody uses it.”
The committee is also working on completing a suite of exposure control plans for different types of materials and substances a restoration contractor might typically encounter.
“For the most part, each site will have a range of similar hazards, such as asbestos, lead, sewage or PCBs in light ballasts,” Driessen says. “This guide will collect recognized exposure control and protective measure strategies for the most common hazards. A restoration contractor could draw from this information to create a site-specific exposure control plan.”
Committee member Justin McConville is the health, safety & environmental specialist with Onside Restoration, a contractor with offices across Canada. He’s also one of very few restoration contracting professionals who have earned the distinction of being a Canadian Registered Safety Professional.
“The committee’s work is important because in many cases, restoration contractors could be overlooked by regulators,” he says. “Regulations that might make sense for large construction sites are difficult to apply to a jobsite that might only be as large as a small bathroom that needs a couple of walls removed. We have a representative from WorkSafeBC sitting on the committee who listens to our concerns and allow us to review and suggest changes to government documents as subject matter experts before those documents are published.”
One of the committee’s current tasks involves clarification of the role of prime contractor in a fire or flood restoration scenario.
“The regulations state that the prime contractor must be identified in writing,” says McConville. “Without that document, many people mistakenly believe that the insurance adjuster who orders the work is the prime contractor because they retain us to mitigate the loss. However, insurance companies don’t have the knowledge and experience to coordinate health and safety on a project.”
The distinction is critical. If no responsibility for prime contractor is assigned in writing, the ultimate responsibility for injuries or infractions could fall to the person who rents or owns the property where the work is being done. When no prime contractor is clearly identified, a series of contractors might each expose new hazards in turn without informing other contractors. A plumber, for example, could cut into a wall and disturb lead paint without the restoration contractor’s knowledge.
“The restoration contractor not only has the knowledge and experience required to be the prime contractor, but in most cases, we have the largest number of workers on the site,” says McConville. “It makes sense for us to assume that role and perform site orientations for other contractors who arrive on the project.”
The committee is currently arranging a series of seminars in partnership with WorkSafeBC to bring insurance adjusters and restoration contractors together to discuss the legislative requirement to assign prime, how it should be assigned and what responsibilities a written designation confers on the prime contractor.
McConville says the committee will continue to provide a valuable link between restoration contractors and with regulators in a specialized field that continues to evolve.
“The restoration business is a competitive industry,” he says. “But when we sit down in the committee room, we’re colleagues supporting the industry. The competition stops at the door as we each bring our combined years of experience in health and safety to the table.”
This industry special is by BCCSA in collaboration with ConstructConnect® Media. To learn more about BCCSA, visit www.bccsa.ca.