Does the phrase “The World Needs Ditch Diggers To” sound familiar? Embrace it. Construction has some very high paying jobs. But before you go buying boots, there are some things you need to know. Leading the way in fatalities is the construction industry. Caused by accidents and occupational disease, construction losses 30 to 45 workers yearly in BC alone. In the last four-years, WorkSafe BC reported the total death rate of all occupations numbered 555 workers. These people paid the ultimate price for their jobs.

Asbestos-related issues were the cause of most of these fatalities. Yet other workers were the result of falling and objects sticking the worker to name the next two leading factors. With all these tradespeople, one constant would have decreased these number exponentially. Continued Safety Training and asking themselves the most important question before starting any task. “What Could Go Wrong”

This is why I say, “Before you go Buying Boots”, there are some safety courses prospective worker should take prior to ever walking onto a construction site. The three major courses a worker should take are OFA 1, WHMIS 2015 and CSTS-09. There are a few more after these, however, they can wait and with luck might be paid for by a future employer.

First off, OFA I or Occupational First Aid level 1, is an 8-hour course comprised of the basics. Bruises and band-aids for the most part. However, you’ll learn CPR, Airway and Breathing Intervention, Cervical Spine Control, Hemorrhage Controls, Minor Wounds and Injury Management, along with a few other things. But it all starts with how to perform a Priority Action Approach to an injury location and conducting a Primary Survey on either a conscious or an unconscious patient. These new skills reach far beyond the workplace. Especially if you have children, or just happened to be the first person noticing an injured individual. It’s always nice to know exactly what to do. You might even save a life.

Next, we have WHMIS 2015 or The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System for 2015. The world is full of chemicals. Because we not only live in a chemical factory but most work in one as well, WHMIS 2015 will teach you an overview of WHMIS, hazard groups and classes, labels, physical hazards, health hazards, and safety data sheets (SDSs). Training courses can be found online that are very inexpensive, yet will heighten your awareness to your surroundings 10-fold.

Case in point. Walking down a construction site hallway, a strange taste suddenly fills your mouth. Or a nocuous odder invaded your nose, forcing you to start coughing. Is it dangerous or even deadly? You know it isn’t grandpa after a burrito lunch. It’s from that dust, mist or fumes you just inhaled. This course gives you the knowledge on how to find out what it is. Maybe the source it was derived from, and what the harmful effects are and how they can be mitigated.

Last but not least is CSTS-09. Construction Safety Training System will instruct you in the basics of, worksite and the law, personal physical care & conduct, Personal protective equipment (PPE), workplace hazards, field-level hazard assessment (FLHA), just to name a few. Compiled into 15 instructional modules, this 6-hour training program is the beginning of a worker’s safety knowledge.  In addition, the worker will learn ladders & scaffolding safety, mobile equipment, machinery, and tools. One of the best pre-employment course created.

In time, further training will need to be taken. Programs like Personal Fall Protection Training, Confined Space, Telehandler and Aerial Work platform (both Telescoping AWPs and Scissor Lifts) Operation will be very beneficial. However, in my professional opinion, all future workers in construction should have the first three accomplished prior to any job site placement. The injury and fatality rates would start to decrease as a result. This intern would increase profits for companies and contractors. The only industry that losses would be the ones who sell coffins and burial plots.

How easy it would be to add these 3-basic courses to the curriculum in high school. Being able to include them in any shop courses or as a stand-alone weeklong training program could be achieved quite easily. Including extra credits as well for the successful completion would improve our future workforce. When I was in high school, the guidance counsellor had a pretty good inclination on who was going to do what as a career choice. She knew I was going into the trades for my occupation. I sure wasn’t going to be an astronaut, lawyer or doctor. On the other hand, what I am now is an Occupational First Aid level III. This was once referred to as a Paramedic in Industry. More importantly as an Occupational Health and Safety Professional, the educational part deals with WorkSafe BC Regulations and the Workers Compensation Act.

So, I guess my mom got her lawyer and doctor after all. However, on the lower spectrum of both fields as can be is where I would sit. Performing the legal and safety aspects of my job with little to no flaws result in the first aid ticket staying in my pocket. I’ve always said, if I have to use my first aid training, I’ve failed as a safety professional. It’s my job to foresee the hazards prior to them occurring. Protecting the workers and the company I work for is priority 1, comically gaining us the name “Babysitters with Band-Aids”

Nevertheless, we are not perfect. Nor can we bubble wrap the world. Hence all inexperienced workers need safety training. Given these points, it is only the beginning. Prior to workers starting, all are given a site-specific orientation. Information conveyed during these are the internal rules and regulation, hazards on site, reporting policies, emergency response procedures, and a host of other information. Training certifications are photocopied, and stapled to the beginning of a workers file. Provided that all goes smoothly, the 3-page orientation I designed and deliver can be conducted in 30 to 40 minutes.

Because of the fact most new people to the trades are under 25 and have not accumulated 5 years of experience, these workers are put into a probationary phase under the “Green Hand Program” This is where they receive a secondary 7-page “New and Young Workers Orientation”. These are far more in-depth and can be, for the most part, considered a mini training program. Taking over 1 to 2 hours is common. The higher risk factor of a site due to the number of hazards results in a longer time period. After which they will receive an extra sticker for their hardhat of a green hand. Even more so, a mentor within their occupational trade group will be assigned by their company.

Not only does this mentor watch over the green hand, but it is also every trade veterans’ responsibility to keep an extra eye open for the green hands. As a matter of fact, its everybody’s duty to stop a new worker from what could be the beginnings of a risky and hazardous mistake. During this time Mentors are conducting on the job training, never being separated for any length of time, and not allowing their rookies to stray off. Starting slow and gradually increasing complexity and responsibilities of the worker’s tasks.

After a structured time period, usually 3 months, the worker is reviewed and evaluated by their mentor, their company foreman and the site safety officer. Training records are examined, and if the worker is ready, they are graduated. This is where I as the site safety officer actually get to have a little fun at their expense. Once a month, in addition to the weekly toolbox talks each subcontractor must conduct, I perform a full site safety meeting. For 15 to 45 minutes the entire site shuts down for a safety talk. Starting off is the senior site superintendent or their representative. They discuss what concerns they are noticing on site. This can be about safety, or whatever subject they choose. Most speak on production and give thanks for the hard work the crew has put in.

Afterwards, it’s my turn to speak. I’ll give a safety moment talk, or demonstration, followed by the green hand’s graduation. They have no idea that it’s coming. In a loud stern voice, I’ll bark out their names in full, directing them to the center of the circle where this safety meeting is taking place. Some sites the circle of personnel can be as high as 200 or 300 people. With a nervous look on their faces, the green hands come to the center and stand before me. Unwittingly to them, they failed to notice their mentor has followed right behind. I’ll start off asking them if they understand what safety is on a construction site. Thinking they might be in some trouble, all without hesitation answer “YES”. With a piercing look Ill reply, “Really, then answer me this” as I begin asking some basic safety-related questions.

You can now see sweat forming on their brow and trickling down their faces. After 5 minutes or so, I’ll ask their mentors if they have in fact learned anything while on site. Hopefully, in unison, they always answer “YES”. At this point I tell the rookies to tear off that green hand sticker, proclaiming “You’ve graduated” as I present them with a brand-new set of 50/50 half mirrored safety glasses. Meanwhile, the entire site erupts with cheers, whistling and applause. The smiles on their faces stretching from ear to ear is evidence of their excitement. By the same token, the feeling of achievement instills a new level of moral. More importantly, this little action is a stress reliever for the whole crew and brings everybody closer together, almost like family. In turn, injuries go down, all due to workers watching out for one another.

So, are you now going to go and start buying boots? Spend the money and buy good ones. You could be wearing them for 10 to 12 hours a day. In conclusion, if you’re going into the trades, take the 3 courses I mentioned. Stay alert on-site and learn all you can. As well, remember to always ask that one question prior to every task. “What can go wrong?” The answers you get are the risks you’ll take from the hazards you’ll face. As a final point, do not under any circumstances start with the attitude that you know more then you do. That’s what will lead you to see me after orientation in one of two capacities. As the site safety officer who has to explain what your doing isn’t right, or as the first aid attendant who’s trying desperately to save your life.

Written by Mike Winbow CSS, OFA III

On-Line Safety Training

OH&S Developer and Coordinator 

Site Safety and First Aid

Fall Protection Training 

FreeBird Safety Services