Construction Safety

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All safety coordinators share common goals: keeping their workplaces safe, healthy and compliant. But while the goals may be the same, the methods safety coordinators rely on to achieve them vary from workplace to workplace. Each workplace poses its own hazards, depending in large part on the industry in which the company operates. With this in mind, the Insider has created a new feature profiling the unique health, safety and compliance challenges posed by particularly dangerous industries.

For this article, we’ve chosen one of Canada’s most dangerous and intensely regulated industries: construction. We’ll discuss the common hazards workers face on construction sites and tell you how the provinces and territories address those hazards in their OHS regulations.

Defining Our Terms

The term “construction” covers a lot of ground. When we refer to construction in this article, we mean the erection, alteration, renovation, repair, dismantling, demolition, structural maintenance and painting of a structure, including land clearing, earth moving, grading, excavating, trenching, digging, boring, drilling, blasting and concreting.

THE HAZARDS

Workers at construction sites face a multitude of hazards. Fall hazards are by far the most common cause of injury in construction. For instance, in BC, falls from elevations represented one quarter of all construction claims and more than half the claim costs charged to this industry. According to CCOHS, other common construction hazards include: 

  • Pain or injury from physical overexertion, repetitive manual tasks or working in awkward positions; 
  • Exposure to harmful biological agents, such as moulds, fungi and bird or rodent droppings, and toxic chemicals and materials, such as lead, asbestos, paints and solvents; 
  • Exposure to harmful physical agents, such as electricity, extreme temperatures, UV radiation and vibration;  Working with hand tools, powered tools and heavy powered equipment; 
  • Working in confined spaces; 
  • Noise; 
  • Working with cranes, hoists, and other materials handling equipment; 
  • Slips and trips; 
  • Respiratory and fire hazards, including wood dust; 
  • Stress; and 
  • Shift work or extended workdays.

THE ILLNESS & INJURY EXPERIENCE

Injuries and illnesses occur frequently in construction work. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, the construction industry had 32,642 time-loss injuries and 236 fatalities in 2005. In BC alone, there were 38 fatalities in 2006 in construction. And in the first half of 2006, the number of serious injuries in construction in BC rose by 36%. In fact, construction is second only to forestry in terms of injury and claim cost rates in this province.

The costs associated with these injuries and illnesses are great. According to the Construction Safety Network, a non-profit group based in BC, occupational injuries and diseases cost the construction industry nearly 2 million lost workdays from 1999 to 2003. While the number of workers’ compensation claims paid dropped or remained relatively constant in most industries from 2002 to 2003, construction saw an increase of 9.76%.

ENFORCEMENT

Construction attracts a lot of attention from regulators in most provinces. Construction sites are frequently subjected to inspections because of all the hazards. In addition, several provinces have recently initiated OHS programs specifically aimed at construction. For example, BC launched Construction High Risk Strategy 2007, a plan aimed at reducing injury, illness, disease and death in what it calls a “higher hazard” industry. All of the provinces and territories address construction hazards and operations in their OHS laws. But they do it in different ways. There are three approaches:

Have specific construction safety regulations. Canada’s two biggest provinces—ON and QC—have separate regulations devoted solely to construction safety. Ontario has Construction Projects Regulation 213/91 and Québec has a Safety Code for the construction industry. Of course, construction work in these provinces is also covered by applicable terms of the OHS Act and the general OHS regulations.

Cover in construction section of general regulations. Eight jurisdictions—BC, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, PE and YT—have sections in their general OHS regulations devoted to construction safety. For example, Part X of New Brunswick’s OHS Regulations covers construction, traffic and building safety. And Part 12 of Prince Edward Island’s OHS General Regulations covers excavations, trenches and construction.

In addition, general terms in these jurisdictions’ OHS Acts and regulations apply to construction work. For example, Part 20 of the BC OHS Regulations which covers construction, excavation and demolition doesn’t specifically address fall hazards. So construction companies must comply with the fall hazard requirements contained in Parts 8, 11 and other sections of the OHS Regulations.

Address generally in OHS regulations. Four jurisdictions—federal, AB, MB and SK— don’t specifically address construction safety in their OHS regulations. Instead, they regulate hazards that may be issues for the construction industry as well as other industries. For example, these jurisdictions have requirements in areas such as fall protection, the use of cranes and hoists and trenching—all of which are construction hazards but could be hazards in other industries, too.

Conclusion

Safety coordinators in all industries must ensure that their companies comply with the OHS laws and take steps to protect their workers. And this duty is especially important in dangerous industries, such as construction. A safety violation in some industries may only result in minor injuries to workers. But in construction, even a seemingly minor violation can have catastrophic and often fatal consequences.