(Canadian OH&S News) — The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and the provincial government are raising concerns about worker safety in the residential construction sector, pinpointing low use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a factor in the industry’s high injury rate in the province.
A study by WorkSafe Saskatchewan, a partnership between the WCB and the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, has revealed that last year, only 41 per cent of workers in residential construction were using fall-protection equipment and 48 per cent were using protective head gear on the job. Only about half of the workers in the sector had been trained in fall protection, according to an Aug. 17 press release from the WCB.
Ray Anthony, executive director of the Ministry’s occupational health and safety division, stressed noncompliance with PPE regulations as a major factor in Saskatchewan’s relatively high injury rates in residential construction, as well as lack of training and supervision.
“Obviously, we’re not quite there where we should be,” said Anthony.
On the other hand, 87 per cent of the industry’s employers had zero injuries last year, he added. “Thirteen per cent of employers in the province are the ones that generate all the statistics that we see. So it is an exception to have workplace incidents and accidents. It’s not the norm.”
The WCB accepted 775 claims from the construction sector last year, the fourth-highest number among all of the province’s trades, according to the Board’s 2015 annual report.
Employers have a legislative responsibility to provide PPE and train workers on it, while employees have a legislative responsibility to use the equipment properly, noted Shelley McFadden, director of prevention with the WCB.
“If they’re not using it correctly,” said McFadden, “then that isn’t going to be in place to protect them either. So they need to be much more conscientious in how they go about being safe in the workplace.”
She added that WorkSafe was collaborating with the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) on strategic initiatives to educate employers and workers on safety, increase training and raise public awareness. “The SCSA has many educational and promotional opportunities for employers made available to them,” said McFadden.
“It’s really beneficial, of course, to have recognition that an injury that happens at work will extend out into their day-to-day lives.”
SCSA president Collin Pullar told COHSN that safety culture has been slowly changing in residential construction in the province. “Saskatchewan has historically had significantly high injury rates and workplace deaths,” he said, noting that the province had once ranked second-highest in the country for occupational injury. “Over the last few years, especially the last couple, we have made strides and have actually moved up in the rankings.”
Nonchalant attitudes towards safety and PPE have been a part of the problem in construction, Pullar added. “I think a lot of it has been, ‘Let’s just get it done, it takes too much time to put this thing on, it can’t be that important, I’m kind of tough, I can just do it. It’s not going to happen to me,’” he explained. “Once that is ingrained in the culture, it takes a lot of time to get out of it.”
He compared the situation to the introduction of seatbelts in vehicles: “When seatbelt laws first came into play, there was a lot of bucking and people were slow to put them on,” he said. But today, “you have this other generation of people who just jump in the car and they put it on, don’t even think about it.”
Residential construction is a particularly vulnerable sector, said Anthony. While the Ministry usually targets the worst offenders when trying to enforce safety, “residential construction is extremely difficult because it’s such a large number of very, very small employers,” he explained. “We’re more stuck with the idea of an industry-level enforcement activity, as opposed to a very targeted enforcement activity to each individual employer.”
The WorkSafe study was based on two workplace inspection campaigns, which examined 161 residential construction sites last year, and the Ministry plans to conduct more inspections this summer and fall, according to the WCB release.
“Our officers will go out, and they will do workplace inspections, and they’ll write compliance orders and those sorts of things,” said Anthony. But training by the SCSA will be another major factor in this campaign, he added.
“There’s a reason why we’ve got high injuries, and collectively, we need to perform better,” said Pullar.
“We’re not doing so good.”