Canadian Contractor

By James Hong   

What went Hong: Safety training for immigrants

Canadian Contractor home renovation safety training

In January, the Ontario government announced $45 million in funding to cut red tape and speed up applications for new home construction. Ontario premier, Doug Ford, said, “Streamlining will assist Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities to modernize and accelerate the home-building process. Updating old outdated systems with online systems will make it easier for applicants seeking to build homes to navigate the development approvals process, manage their applications and get timely updates on the status of those applications.” They also plan to develop a uniform data standard for planning and development applications to help speed up approval times. This is good news for the residential homebuilding industry, but
raises a concern with me about how a rush of building, probably using workers who are new to Canada, might impact jobsite safety.

The cut-red-tape strategy will undoubtedly generate many more millions in residential project construction. A robust workforce active in a busy construction industry will and does require safety practices and protocol implementation. No matter how big or small the company or the project, all employers are responsible for the safety of their workers.

In any type of building construction the same steps apply. Scope the project, including the safety requirements, implement pre-construction necessities, schedule the job and workers and communicate the conditions and demands of the job. I stress the step of communication at all levels is critical to safety. And although we expect that seasoned workers have the tools and knowledge to carry out the job successfully, there are always junior workers entering the construction workforce who need the company’s guidance to maintain a safe working environment as well as safety for themselves.

With provincial government investments to connect 900 new immigrants across the province in construction jobs, as well as the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance’s call to increase the cap on temporary foreign workers from 10 to 20 per cent of the workforce building public infrastructure projects and housing, the rapid and numerous influx of new construction workers is eagerly expected. Even so the industry continues to have demand exceeding the supply, which means the workers will likely be overwhelmed with work.

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Safety training for immigrant construction workers is as essential, as it is for all workers. Let’s acknowledge that many other countries do not emphasize safety or even have safety protocols for construction workers. Safety may very well be an entirely new concept for some immigrant workers. That coupled with any possible language barriers requires a whole new level of safety training and relies greatly on team work, which I have written about extensively. Not to mention that it’s never a bad idea to remind all workers of the safety requirements for any job. The safety specifications for a job are best communicated by both written and verbal methods and should be accompanied by testing the information taught. Whether working in industrial or residential construction, safety training methods and requirements are not new concepts. We sometimes forget that demolition work for one room poses many of the same risks as building a house. Working at heights, moving objects, slips, trips and falls, noise, material handling, collapse and asbestos are universal risks no matter the job size or category.

Complete the pre-work inspection phase. Determine the risks and preventive measures needed. Wear your basic safety gear. If you don’t have any ask your employer to provide it to you. If you need special safety gear, make sure you have it before the start of the job that requires it. If you don’t understand the instructions or safety requirements for the job, ask your supervisor and your teammates. These are all steps we sometimes forget because we’re so busy getting on with the hard work. All construction comes with time constraints which can cause intense pressure when setbacks occur. Another reason to focus on safety and not succumb to the occasional urge to skip a step or two.

Be safe. Be well


James Hong is an OHS consultant, writer and journalist.

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