Years ago, improvements in construction worker health and safety often relied on simple solutions — wear a hard hat, use work gloves, pull on your safety boots. Today, improvements in worker safety are increasingly achieved in hard-won increments, underscored by data. It’s an approach that’s resulted in remarkable success for the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) through its development of products such as the Silica Control ToolTM and as the certifying partner of the Certificate of Recognition (COR®) program for the BC construction industry.
“For the Alliance, a program needs to meet two basic criteria to earn longevity,” says Mike McKenna, executive director of the BCCSA. “First, the program needs to demonstrate its success using hard data that indicate effectiveness in reducing the number and severity of worker injuries and the number of fatalities. Second, voluntary programs needs to meet our goal of ‘making safety simpler’, which helps to lower the barriers to participation.”
The BCCSA COR® program is a case in point, as the most successful program operated by the Alliance. WorkSafeBC and the BCCSA funded two UBC research studies of the COR® program in 2015 and 2018. The research shows that certified firms demonstrated, on average, a 10% lower short-term disability, long-term disability and fatality rate between 2003 and 2016, as compared to non-certified firms, and a 9% lower serious injury rate.
In 2019 WorkSafeBC and BCCSA engaged UBC to assess the predictive value of the COR® audit tool. The research indicated that overall audit performance was strongly predictive of better employer level work injury rates.
Members are also voluntarily adopting the program. WorkSafeBC statistics indicate that the number of COR®-certified employers has almost doubled from the year 2010, to 1,105 contractors representing 106,900 workers in 2020.
A need for additional in-house research expertise was the driving force behind hiring Dr. Melanie Gorman Ng as the BCCSA’s health and exposure scientist in 2018. She first worked to support Alliance research as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC, where she helped develop the statistical model that underpins the BCCSA’s Silica Control Tool™.
“The goal in construction worker health and safety is to collect the best information available so that we can make the best decisions,” she says. “This is how we’ve been improving the Silica Control Tool™. With every new data point we add and new exposure control method we analyze and include, the tool becomes more robust. It allows us to better estimate exposure and show the degree to which different control methods can reduce that exposure.”
Dr. Gorman Ng notes that research data is also critical in assisting employers with occupational hygiene challenges, where the relationship between health hazards and outcomes may be more difficult to establish.
Recently, for example, the BCCSA initiated a series of educational resources designed to help employers reduce worker exposure to isocyanates, a family of sensitizing chemicals considered a priority both by Alliance members and WorkSafeBC. Initial isocyanate exposure may be undetectable to workers, low exposure levels may be challenging to track, and the effects of repeated exposure may create an increasing risk of harm through sensitization. Only a data-driven exposure control strategy can help ensure optimal outcomes, and the best available guidance.
“Research and data not only tell us what works, they also tell us what doesn’t work,” says McKenna. “By constantly testing our own assumptions we aim to develop and improve programs that are the best available for construction employers and their workers in the province — and back that belief with data supporting better health and safety outcomes.”
This content is an Industry Special by BCCSA in collaboration with ConstructConnect® Media. To learn more about BCCSA, visit www.bccsa.ca.