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Macho Man:
Sobering Statistics on Construction Safety

By Judy Penz Sheluk

According to the Institute for Work & Health [www.iwh.on.ca], in 2005 over $6.8 billion in workers’ compensation benefits were disbursed across Canada to compensate injured workers
and to provide them with health care treatment and rehabilitation. The majority of the benefits—$4.6 billion—were paid as wage-loss compensation (long-and short-term disability); payments for medical and rehabilitation services totalled over $1.5 billion.
While these statistics cover a variety of professions, the construction industry has its fair share of workplace injuries. Canada-wide statistics for 2005 indicate that for every 100 construction workers, 3.2 will suffer a lost-time injury. Statistics vary greatly by province, ranging from a high of 6.6/100 in Manitoba, to a low of 1.6/100 in Ontario. [See Lost-time Injury chart for a complete breakdown by province.]

2006 injury table

In response, provincial and regional associations are putting greater emphasis on training and safety programs and, for the most part, there has been historical improvement. Nonetheless, low isn’t really that low. Consider the 1.6/100 statistic noted for Ontario—that still represents 6,025 workers being injured seriously enough to warrant time off the job. Furthermore, there were 27 fatalities caused by injury. Among the fatalities were a 23-year-old roofer (fell 22 feet from residential roof), a 45-year-old truck driver (buried when load shifted while unloading gravel), a 56-year-old heavy equipment operator building a winter road (drowned when crawler/dozer fell through ice) and a 76-year-old site superintendent (fell into excavation hole approximately 10 feet deep).
So, what’s the solution? In his editorial for the Construction Safety Association of Ontario’s (CSAO) 2006 Annual Report, 2006-07 president Neil McCormick noted: “It’s clear that providing information about hazards is not sufficient. The industry must find ways to influence more than people’s knowledge. We must influence people’s behaviour.”
Translation? “We still see an emphasis on productivity and profit at the expense of safety, or the attitude that health and safety methods are an obstacle to getting the job done,” says a spokesperson for CSAO. “There also remains a bit of a ‘macho’ culture in construction, in which risk is often condoned, if not rewarded. It’s time to get the message across to employers, supervisors, and workers that the same hazards that are present on an all-day job can also exist on a two-minute task. Safe work methods prevent accidents and saves lives. It’s just that simple.”

Security in Construction:
More Sobering Statistics

Every three minutes, a vehicle is stolen in Canada. While cars comprise the bulk of the statistic—about 56 per cent, followed by SUVs and trucks—amongst the figures compiled by Statistics Canada
are construction vehicles and equipment, which account for up to 10 per cent of the total. Furthermore, the chance of recovery and return of a vehicle, tools, equipment or materials is as low as 42 per cent in some major cities.
We’re not alone. In their 2004 Equipment Theft Report, the National Equipment Register (NER) estimates the total value of equipment stolen annually in the United States ranges between $300 million and $1 billion. About 60 per cent of the thefts reported were for skid steer loaders, backhoes and small to medium-sized tractors.
“Not surprisingly, the availability and ease with which construction equipment can be stolen are two primary factors that determine theft rates. Other factors include the high value of heavy equipment, the ease of which equipment can be sold in the used equipment market, low risk of detection and arrest, and low penalties if prosecuted,” says David Shillingford, president and CEO of NER.
Of course, the housing boom of recent years has also created a lot more opportunity. In central Alberta, the insurance industry estimates construction theft and vandalism cost consumers more than $20 million in higher charges for land, housing, renovation and building.
In an effort to reduce the risks, members of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA)-Central Alberta, Red Deer Construction Association, Urban Development Institute-Red Deer, and Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) united forces. In March 2006, in partnership with Crime Stoppers, the group launched an “ongoing initiative of preventative measures in and around residential, commercial and industrial construction sites to reduce their risk and liability.” Educational expertise is provided to project stakeholders by the RCMP, XCOPS Security Consultants and the Insurance Industry.
Is it working? “We don’t have any hard statistics yet, only anecdotal evidence from builders that they have fewer incidents now that the program is under way,” says Scott Boyd, Executive Officer of CHBA Central Alberta. “However, we did have one member, Garth Dushanek of Asset Builders, recently provide the Red Deer RCMP with information on a thief who was posing as a construction worker. Not only did the RCMP make an arrest, they busted an entire construction theft ring and recovered a ton of stolen equipment.”
Sounds like working together works, whether it’s at the national level, as is the case with NER, or at the regional level. After all, what’s there to lose?

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