Industry Special: The Builders Code sets a new standard for construction worksite culture

Journal of Commerce | BCCA Employee Benefit Trust | June 25, 2019

Industry Special: The Builders Code sets a new standard for construction worksite culture
(From left) Builders Code Trainer Diane Bourret and Builders Code Equity Advisors Jessi Dhanju, Adeline Huynh, and Diane Jolicoeur.

There’s a new voluntary code in town and its designed to make the BC construction industry more competitive. Launched March 8, 2019 — International Women’s Day — The Builders Code sets a standard code of conduct for construction sites in BC. It doesn’t tell people what to do. It defines an “Acceptable Worksite” as the starting point for reducing risk and ensuring a safe and productive environment for all workers. By helping construction employers to communicate an expectation of reasonable, consistent behavior, the Builders Code aims to improve the safety, productivity and retention of skilled tradespeople, while reducing project risk.

The Builders Code represents the work of dozens of organizations, individuals and industry stakeholders. The project was developed under the guidance of the BC Construction Association (BCCA).

“Along with a number of stakeholders, we’ve been involved with panels, focus groups and research that indicate that there is a shortage of skilled tradeswomen represented in construction,” says Chris Atchison, president and CEO of BCCA. “In British Columbia and the rest of Canada, that number is still well below five per cent.”

When the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training put out a call for solutions to the labour force challenge, BCCA offered its own solution to assist the construction industry to become a more viable employment alternative, both for skilled tradeswomen, and other groups who possessed the skills that the construction industry required.

To develop what became known as The Builders Code, BCCA partnered with its regional construction associations and other groups, including LNG Canada, BCCA Employee Benefit Trust, Worksafe BC, Industry Training Authority, the Minerva Foundation for BC Women and the BC Construction Safety Alliance. More than 100 skilled tradeswomen across the province offered their personal insights.

“As a construction association we know that we have workplace culture issues, but we’re not the only industry with those same issues,” says Atchison. “The construction industry is investing so much effort into convincing young people that construction is a career that provides excellent pay and opportunities. But we’re building a pipeline of promises that the construction workplace culture could discourage once they make a choice for construction.”

Lisa Stevens, chief strategy officer for the BCCA, wrote the original proposal for The Builders Code and continues to support the project.

“Part of the concept was always that The Builders Code is optional,” she says. “We want to find the leaders and find the employers who are ready for change. If you’re not ready for this concept, we’ll be waiting here for you when you are. Even though the funding for the program came specifically to support the retention of tradeswomen in the construction industry, The Builders Code is not exclusively about women, but about everyone on the jobsite. It recognizes that hazing, harassment and bullying happen to everyone, and that these behaviours cause stress and distraction and that leads to safety and productivity risk. This program focuses on business imperatives, instead of moral imperatives.”

The Builders Code offers employers a toolkit that includes an acceptable worksite standard and encourages them to sign an acceptable worksite pledge, which they can publicly support. Employers can adopt a model Builders Code human resources policy, or adapt it to fit with an existing policy. The Builders Code also offers training programs aimed at owners and executives, site managers and crew members. Guidance from Builders Code program employer advisors is available to those who signed the Builders Code pledge, but is also available to any construction industry employer seeking advice about related workplace issues.

Jessi Dhanju is the Vancouver Island employer advisor for The Builders Code. There are currently three others: one for the Southern Interior, another for the Lower Mainland and a fourth for Northern BC.

“Employers are coming to us because they have committed to change,” says Dhanju. “They either want to know more about The Builders Code or they want help with something that’s happening at their workplace. That’s really encouraging. We try to develop a relationship of trust with employers, often meeting with them one to one so we can learn more about them. There’s sometimes a bit of fear that if they’re using the resources available to them under The Builder’s Code, they’re identifying themselves as an employer with issues. We don’t see these as issues. They’re learning opportunities for change from a cultural perspective.”

Dhanju sees himself as a coach, providing employers with the information and support they need, so that they can empower themselves.

“Often employers find they’re not really far off the track,” he says. “It doesn’t take a big change to help them develop an acceptable workplace culture. The tech industry is making strides toward greater diversity and inclusion and now the construction industry can proudly say they’re doing it too.”

To date, about 50 employers have signed the acceptable worksite pledge and become Builders Code signatories.

“The effect of the Builders Code is succeeding in moving the discussion away from mandating diversity and inclusion to one of creating a compelling case for safety, for productivity and for competitive workplaces,” says Atchison. “It’s giving employers the motivation and opportunity to move the dial on changing the culture of construction. We’re not moving mountains yet, but we’re turning a lot of heads.”

BCCA Employee Benefit Trust is a proud partner and sponsor of the Builders Code. This content is an Industry Special by BCCA Employee Benefit Trust in collaboration with ConstructConnect® Media. To learn more about The Builders Code, visit www.builderscode.ca. To learn more about BCCA Employee Benefit Trust, visit www.bccabenefits.ca.