Four years ago, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to introduce a fall protection training standard.
“Up until then, that could have been a one-hour session done in the basement by my mother or it could have been a five-day program by highly qualified and competent instructors. It was buyer beware,” says Jackie Manuel, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association (NLCSA).
This was a huge shift for the construction industry, and despite common perception that there would be lots of backlash from employers, it never came.
“I don’t know if I had one complaint,” says Manuel. “I can tell you what I had complaints about: people who could not get workers trained fast enough because our courses were full. Who would have thought 20 years ago people would be complaining that they could not get training?”
Since the standard came in, injuries and falls from height have decreased by 25 per cent, says Manuel.
Now, the province also has training standards for several courses, including confined space, occupational health and safety committees, power line hazards, first aid, traffic control, mine rescue and diving.
Providing quality training that meets these standards at the lowest possible cost is one of the key pillars of the NLCSA, a non-profit organization with the goal of assisting its members to create safe workplaces and lead the province in incident and injury prevention.
The association also offers consulting services.
“People trust us because we are impartial, because we are not-for-profit. We are giving you advice because it’s a best practice, not because we’re going to make any money,” says Manuel, who has been CEO for 12 years. “I think it’s important to have that independent not-for-profit lens to guide people.”
Everything the association does goes back to its “No harm done” tag line. It’s not just an overarching goal, but a colloquial saying.
“It’s like ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘No problem.’ And we position ourselves like that. There’s no harm in reaching out to us,” says Manuel. “We’re here to help you.”
When the association was launched 20 years ago, the lost-time injury rate in the province was 6.44, and in 2015, it was 1.9. Employers were paying an average assessment rate of $7 in 1996 and for 2016, the average rate is $2.02.
The association also offers the Certificate of Recognition (COR) to its members, which yields a particularly unique benefit. The only way a company in the construction industry can qualify for a rebate on its assessments from the workers’ compensation board is if it has COR certification and is in good standing with the NLCSA.
Beyond providing services to its members, the NLCSA also advocates for the construction industry. Manuel and her team are currently working with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to harmonize training standards. Two years ago, the heads of the construction safety associations in the three provinces publicly signed an agreement saying they will work towards establishing a standard for every course that meets the requirements of each province.
“We were told, ‘You will never be able to do this. Governments have been trying to harmonize for years, it will never happen.’ And we discovered the biggest barrier to making this happen was for the three of us to agree this is worth doing,” says Manuel. “Once we said ‘Yes, this is worth it and we are committed to this. This is in the best interest of the members we are here to help,’ then the rest kind of fell in place.”
They started with the low-hanging fruit first as there were quite a few programs that were already similar, such as WHMIS, trenching and excavating and accident and incident investigation. Then they moved on to fall protection and have recently developed a program Manuel feels confident meets the standards and requirements of the three provinces. Once it gets government approval, workers who take the course through one province’s construction safety association do not need to be retrained to work in the other two jurisdictions.
This harmonization is particularly useful for Newfoundland and Labrador because the construction industry is as busy — or busier — than it was this time last year and the year before, says Manuel, largely due to heavy industrial projects, such as the gravity-based structure for the Hebron oil field and the development of Nalcor Energy’s Muskrat Falls.
Through the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations, Manuel is working with other provinces to form a truly national standard for the National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) program. As it stands now, each jurisdiction has its own requirements for the designation — and the exact name varies as well — and the group wants to create a national certification exam to get all provinces on the same page. This summer, the association is aiming to table the national exam and approve a revised NCSO national agreement.
Steps for Life
For six years, Manuel was the director of the occupational health and safety enforcement group for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. One day, she had to meet with the family of a worker who was killed to explain why there would be no charges laid.
“It was probably one of the most difficult two hours of my life, but it really affected me in terms of how horrific it was for this family and
there was nothing I was going to say that would make them understand,” says Manuel.
That experience stuck with Manuel and about five or six years later she came across Threads of Life, a national charity that supports families after a workplace fatality, life-altering injury or occupational disease, and she instantly wanted to be involved. Manuel started out by chairing the Steps for Life walk locally and has served on the board of directors since 2009.
The board is made up half of family members and half of community or corporate partners, and Manuel vividly remembers her first meeting.
“We were about an hour into it and I just kind of took a step back and it struck me I was sitting in a board room with five parents who lost a child in a workplace accident and I couldn’t even understand how they get out of bed every day, and I had to leave the room,” she says. “I got it together and came back to the meeting but I just admire those people so much.”
Manuel is also passionate about educating youth on occupational health and safety. The province now has a full credit OHS course in high schools and the NLCSA donates a kit with personal protective equipment to every teacher. Manuel is thrilled with this new course and says it shows the province is moving in the right direction. When she worked in OHS enforcement, she would try and provide information for teachers but there was often pushback.
“(They would say) ‘Well, there’s only so many hours in the day and we have to teach them how to read and write.’ And I said ‘Well, you know if they don’t have fingers, they really don’t need to know how to write. We are trying to give them information that might save their life one day,’” says Manuel. “I get reading and writing, very important, but surviving to use it is even more important.”
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of COS.
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