Having the Department of National Defence (DND) as its biggest client poses some unique safety challenges for Defence Construction Canada (DCC). The 755-employee Crown corporation provides contracting, construction contract management and infrastructure and environmental services for DND as well as the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Communications Security Establishment Canada and Shared Services Canada, as required for the defence of the country.
Employees work in unique project conditions, such as remote locations (Canada’s Far North) and combat zones (Afghanistan). They also manage unexploded explosive ordnance removal. DCC’s policies and procedures often have to be adapted, modified or expanded to ensure each workplace is kept safe under these uncommon conditions.
While DCC is headquartered in Ottawa, it works on bases across Canada and abroad that are home to army, navy and air force personnel and their families. DCC regularly communicates with residents of each base and attends quarterly base safety meetings to share project information, safety observations and lessons learned.
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Its employees work closely with private construction and consulting firms on site. For example, DCC is providing construction contract management oversight for the construction of a new $500 million fleet maintenance facility for the Royal Canadian Navy at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria. The contract is a joint venture between EllisDon and Kinetic (EDK).
“We’re in communication with them constantly and share an office, so safety is always being discussed,” says Brian Fraser, project leader. “We will conduct safety monitoring visits to project sites together to assess compliance with the contract documents and the federal and provincial legislation.”
Scott McRae, DCC’s co-ordinator of national health and safety, reports that a core challenge is hiring and supervising local contractors and consultants, some of which are small companies that may not have an established safety program.
“We have standard safety requirements that we build into all our projects and everyone has to comply,” he says. “Our employees manage the contracts, so we do the training and monitor their work and safety performance at every site.”
In the summer of 2015, DCC instituted a pilot project with sit-stand desks, after identifying an increase in ergonomic injuries. Participants received a sit-stand desk complemented by an ergonomics assessment, e-learning, anti-fatigue mat and a mobile app that prompts them to sit or stand throughout the day.
Prior to receiving the new desks, more than two-thirds of participants had been experiencing pain or discomfort while sitting. After completing the pilot, more than 80 per cent experienced a decrease or elimination of pain, soreness, stiffness, numbness, tension, pressure and aches. DCC has just entered the third phase of the pilot project, which will see the number of sit-stand desks in circulation increase to nearly 300.
Across DCC, the numbers show the organization’s safety strategies are working. In 2015, the company had just four lost-time injuries and 12 no lost-time injuries. Its total lost-time injury frequency rate is 0.0207.
McRae believes that good working relationships and a positive attitude keep both internal and external workers focused on the big picture.
"We go into every site with the aim of completing the project successfully without accidents or injuries and delivering it to the military on time so they can meet their operational requirements.”