View from the Board: High-risk strategy builds upon last year’s progress

Journal of Commerce ~ by DON SCHOUTEN   ~ Jan 26, 2016

Every January, WorkSafeBC renews its provincial high-risk strategy focusing on the biggest safety issues. While it evolves to keep pace with what’s been happening in the industry, each year’s strategy always maintains an emphasis on long-standing problems. But, don’t think we’re living out Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The fact is the construction industry’s situation is getting better over time. Injury rates have been declining, but serious injuries continue to occur. We’ve designed the 2016 high-risk strategy to help reverse that trend and we want to work with you to reduce serious injury, illness, disease, and death on construction jobsites.

I need to emphasize that the strategy goes beyond enforcement, though compliance with health and safety regulations is one way WorkSafeBC measures employers’ safety performance. Our field officers also rely on communication, consultation, and education to implement the strategy and help make construction worksites safer. The strategy focuses prevention initiatives on identified areas of high risk in order to apply resources and effort where they will be most effective.

Falls are one of the leading causes of injuries to construction workers in B.C., representing 24 per cent of all injuries and 35 per cent of all claims costs. From 2012 to 2014, falls from ladders injured or killed 1,004 workers in the construction sector. That’s almost one fall every day for three years.

In addition to this, falls from scaffold, staging or platforms injured or killed an additional 374 workers in the construction sector.

The 2016 high-risk strategy will focus on falls from heights, with a special emphasis on safe ladder usage. The strategy includes inspections that will engage all construction employers, who are using ladders on worksites.

Officers will focus discussions on:

  • Safe use and site inspection of ladders;
  • Risk assessment;
  • Whether ladders are the right tool for the job or if there is a safer alternative, such as a work platform; and
  • Review and discussion of related incident investigations;

In addition, WorkSafeBC will continue to focus on preventing occupational disease, as well as continue to partner with external groups and associations such as the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance on initiatives like the “Is this the right tool for the job?” ladder safety campaign. We need to continue to work together to prevent serious injuries from occurring.

I have said this before and will say it again: in construction, we cannot avoid working at heights, but what we can do is work together to minimize or eliminate the hazard of a fall by providing the right tools, equipment and training to prevent falls from occurring.

Much more needs to be done in order to prevent serious injuries from occurring and that’s what the 2016 high-risk strategy is designed to help us accomplish, just as previous years’ strategies have. The high-risk strategy has contributed to a better overall safety performance in recent years that has helped lower WorkSafeBC assessment rates for construction employers as a whole.

But, the most important pay-off is that construction workers are more likely to go home in one piece and, I believe, deliver higher productivity. While we’re doing a lot better, we have a ways to go yet.

The odds of getting hurt or killed on the job are still much worse for construction workers than those in most other B.C. industries.

I’m sure some of you have made resolutions for the New Year.  I’d like to encourage you to add one more to your list: be more intentional about preventing injury — whether you’re at work, at home or at play. Once you cultivate an attitude towards safety, it will surely influence all aspects of your life and those around you.

Don Schouten is WorkSafeBC’s manager of Industry and Labour Services – Construction. Don is also a member of the Journal of Commerce editorial advisory board. Send comments or questions to

Jan 26, 2016