February 13, 2006

Workplace Safety

Workplace culture among safest

Prevention measures up when compared to U.S.

Thinking about prevention gives the Canadian construction industry the edge over its U.S. counterparts when it comes to safety first.

“After 10 years on the job, construction workers become managers and they remember the safety training they received, and continue to make decisions based on that safety training.

“To every dollar we spend on construction safety training, Americans spend three,” Jeff Bowman, author and trainer with Bowman Training Initiatives, told delegates at the Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO) 4th Annual Construction Health and Safety Conference in Toronto.

“Why do we have the lowest accident rate in the world? Because our training dollars are being spent effectively and in the right place. A safety culture encourages workers to perceive that training as valuable.”

Make that pre-emptive training, adds Lawrence Kurtz. “When we train on time we can choose the best training, negotiate an acceptable price for the service, and schedule the training to suit work schedules. When we’re being written up by inspectors who demand we implement an ergonomic program immediately, we don’t have the leisure to choose or to shop around.

Calling Canadian construction workers and managers the “gold medal winners in the Olympics of safety,” Bowman said the Ontario construction industry may be a victim of its own success because statistics tend to reinforce negative information, not positive.

“How do you motivate people to improve safety further when 95 people out of 100 have never been injured on the job? How do we make people see the impact of something they’ve never seen?”

One hurdle to improvement is the disconnect between health and safety as components of a workplace program, says Lawrence Kurtz, project coordinator, Health, Hygiene and Ergonomics, with the CSAO.

“The difference between safety and health in a construction workplace safety program is like the difference between falling off a roof and exposure to asbestos. Both can kill. The difference is how long it takes.”

But the costs are counted differently.

“For deaths or injuries, each company can be held to account for safety infractions and problems,” says Kurtz. “Health problems are counted over the long run and are accounted against the entire industry.

“Because diseases might develop over decades, there’s a disconnect between cause and outcome.”

Bowman adds that the world at large tends to reinforce risk-taking, making it more difficult to promote the workplace safety message.

“Society thinks it’s okay to go bungee jumping. Try to translate that to a job site where a roofer suddenly jumps off the roof and yells back up to you ‘Don’t worry, I’m on a strap.’

“When someone comes in to sell you a tool that bores a three-quarter-inch hole through concrete in 6.6 seconds, do they talk about safety procedures and broken wrists — or how fast the tool works?”

What the Ontario construction industry does well, says Bowman, is to make safety part of corporate culture, an ongoing process that can continue to improve over decades or more.

Safety training is an inherent part of that, but maintaining a safety culture requires continuity.

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