VANCOUVER – The BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) has partnered with industry and labour organizations to launch North America’s first certification program for concrete pump operators.
The BCCSA worked with the Council of Construction Associations (COCA), Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), BC Construction Association (BCCA), Concrete BC, Canadian Home Builders Association BC (CHBABC) ,the BC Roadbuilders Association, the BC Stone, Sand and Gravel Association and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 to fund research on methods of measurement of pump operator competence as well as piloting test operator examinations.
The certification will involve both a written safety exam and a practical exam to demonstrate competence, and those who are certified must take a new practical exam every five years to re-certify.
“This is one of the most important parts of building construction, and one of the most dangerous. While people operating such heavy equipment must be trained to do this work, surprisingly no formal programs are in place anywhere in North America to validly certify their knowledge or on-site performance capabilities. This is where British Columbia has taken the lead to improve safety on construction sites where concrete pumps are in use,” British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance executive director Mike McKenna said.
Concrete pump systems have also become increasingly complex, he added.
“I was really shocked four and a half years ago to find that I could, if I got a Class 3 license, operate one of these huge machines. It’s really weaponized concrete if it gets out of control and gets shot across a road or another building or even worse it tips over and injures workers on site, and we felt we had to do something about it,” Mckenna said.
Program development was handled by BCCSA and Concrete BC, with province-wide consultations held in 2015 followed by testing pump operators by industry experts in 2016. The program was set up to meet International Standards Organization (ISO 17024) requirements and be accredited by American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
B.C. minister of labour Harry Bains offered the provincial government’s support for the new certification and said the ministry’s role was to encourage continued development of the program.
“The buildings are much taller now, and the pumps are much more complex and much more powerful. It only makes sense for the operators to have proper training, and my goal is to make B.C. workplaces the safest in the country. A big part of that is prevention and a big part of prevention is training,” Bains said.
“The workers should have the proper tools the proper training to do their jobs safely, and I want to thank BCCSA and their stakeholder partners working to put this program together because working together is the only way to achieve a safe workplace, and then everyone owns it and says ‘this is our program and we’ll make it work,” he added.
The genesis of the program was in 2014, when the Concrete BC board agreed with a request from their concrete pump committee to work with WorkSafeBC to make operator qualification mandatory in a similar fashion to crane operators. At the time fewer than 25 per cent of B.C. pump operators had taken a written safety exam.
In fall 2014 consensus was reached amongst major construction associations to pursue pump operator certification and in 2015 the BCCSA agreed to a first phase of research and development, establishment and piloting of pump operator competence exams, and Concrete BC partnered with the organization to provide joint project management and subject matter expertise. In 2015 Fulford Certification was retained to advise on examination development for a voluntary certification program and is the organization WorkSafeBC had previously used to manage crane operator assessment and certification.
“This is an important day for workers and employers in the concrete pumping industry and for BCCSA. We are supportive of this voluntary program as it will help to address the hazards in this work and will raise the bar on training and qualifications,” WorkSafeBC vice president Dale Walker said.
“This milestone event today is not the end of the process but the beginning of a long journey to ensure that every concrete pump operator in British Columbia, with our construction industry partners, is certified,” Concrete BC board chair Rob Slarks added.
“We’ll look back on this and people will say ‘why did it take so long?’ I think this will just become the norm,” McKennna said.
The program launched on Sept. 12 and information on applying for the program is available at ccpo.ca.