Making Safety Simpler for its member contractors is the theme behind the 2018-20 strategic plan of the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA).
That theme is not about dumbing down safety but rather how to make it easier for contractors to meet their health and safety obligations, says Mike McKenna, executive director of the BCCSA.
The idea came about partly as a result of the alliance’s successful app called the Silica Control Tool. It helps employers conduct risk assessments and implement safe work practices.
Silica, common in construction materials such as concrete, can be a serious health hazard when dust is created through cutting, grinding or demolition.
McKenna says the app is a practical alternative to conducting extensive and expensive testing that can be required every time a contractor works with silica dust.
The safety alliance partnered with the University of B.C. (UBC) and WorkSafeBC to develop the app, accessible on mobile devices and computers. From information input by a contractor the app provides answers on the risks their workers face to exposure of unacceptable silica dust levels in accordance with B.C. health and safety regulations. It even answers contractor questions about alternative work practices that could reduce silica exposure to acceptable health levels.
What’s more, the app allows the contractor to “figuratively push a button” to produce the paperwork that is acceptable to the regulators, says McKenna.
The amount of paperwork contractors require to complete a project can be daunting.
McKenna says in the late 1990s, a study by WorkSafeBC concluded that even for a small construction project, such as a residential home, a builder required 56 documents including permits and certificates to meet regulatory requirements.
The concern is that builders burdened with that much paperwork might ignore health and safety issues to get the job done, he says.
“If we can make access to safety practical, simple (the Silica Tool app, for example) and in a format that the construction community understands and has an appetite for, we win,” he adds.
In keeping with the theme, the BCCSA contracts with a number of health and safety consultants who are available to its members. There are about 40,000 contractors employing 200,000 workers.
Most of those contractors employ fewer than five workers.
The alliance has about 1,200 Certificate of Recognition (COR) companies — almost double the number it had in 2010.
McKenna attributes the increase in part to the assistance its occupational health and safety consultants provide member companies to prepare to meet compliance requirements of COR safety certification.
Now that B.C. Hydro, the province’s power regulator, requires all contractors working on its sites to be COR certified, the BCCSA is reaching out through its regional safety advisors to walk those contractors through the certification process.
“It affects a lot of small contractors,” he states.
McKenna says the alliance conducts surveys of member companies to measure safety outcomes and it frequently partners with UBC to provide data.
“We believe in making decisions based on data, not on impulse. Decisions based on what might be the right thing to do,” he adds. “We have found that this has helped us when we are trying to move initiatives that may seem like they are a bit contentious going forward.”
The three-year strategic plan was prepared through consultation of the 17 owners or senior decision-makers of construction companies that comprise the alliance’s board of directors.