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From New Prequalification Requirements to Jail Time, Safety Performance Matters in 2016

2016 is proving to be a pivotal year for the health and safety industry. In the United States, President Obama has announced that he plans on adding further revisions to the OHSA legislation before his final term as President comes to an end.  In Canada, however, there are many changes underway, most of which are occurring in Ontario.

For ICI construction firms in Ontario, new prequalification requirement changes
are coming into effect for high valued contracts from the major buyers of construction.
 Toronto Transit Committee (TTC), Infrastructure Ontario, Metrolinx and York Region are now all requiring the Certificate of Recognition (COR™) for specific high valued contracts. Although the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) will not be requiring COR™ for prequalification until 2017, they are now introducing a “COR™ light” element to their prequalification process which is aimed to help companies wanting to bid on contracts to bring their health and safety program up to the COR™ standards.

Although there are those that are against COR™ and will not participate in the COR™ program, the message from major buyers of construction across Canada remains the same: safety performance is becoming a bigger part of the prequalification process and those companies who have better safety records will be favoured over those with weaker ones. Safety performance is quickly becoming a competitive advantage for companies. Those who choose to prioritize safety, actively improve their program and devise a way to prove the operational effectiveness of their program to the public, prospects and the government will have a leg up on their competition.

Another way in which the health and safety industry is changing in Canada is in how the justice system is responding to those who violate safety legislation. For example, this January, for the first time in Ontario history, a site supervisor was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail after being convicted for one count criminal negligence causing bodily harm and four counts of criminal negligence causing death as the result of a workplace incident resulting in 1 major injury and 4 fatalities.

Chris Buckley, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour stated that this sentencing was “historic” and that “justice has been served. It sends a strong message, and employers should have shivers up their spine today.” Vadim Kazanelson, the guilty party facing jail time, was the site supervisor when his crew’s swing bridge broke on a jobsite on Kipling Avenue, Toronto, causing 4 men to fall to their deaths and 1 man to be severely injured in 2009. None of the men killed were attached to safety lines and only 2 were available for the 6 workers on the swing bridge.

The worker who was severely injured was partially attached to the lifeline and another worker, who was fully attached to the second lifeline, was left unharmed by the broken swing bridge. Kazenelson, himself, was not attached to a lifeline and only managed to save himself by clinging to the balcony.

It’s important to note that Kazenelson had a reputation for being “safety minded” and “for firing workers for safety infractions.” So this wasn’t a case of someone who had no regards for safety and was trying to cut corners to make a profit, but rather a man who did care about safety but was negligent. Herein lies the problem with safety, your program can’t just be a binder gathering dust in a corner. Rather, to create a truly safe jobsite, safety has to be the top priority for the company that is practiced at all times.

Executives and site management need to stop looking at safety as something the government is forcing them to do and start looking at it as something they need and want to do. When safety is a top priority for a company, not only will there be fewer incidents and risks to their workers but they will gain more access to work, build a better reputation, save money  (lower insurance premiums, reduction in administration time and fines) and reduce risks (construction defects, civil liabilities from delayed work, etc.). In fact, a study conducted by University of British Columbia found that: “[COR™] certified firms had, on average, a 12% lower short-term disability, long-term disability and fatality (STD, LTD, and fatality) injury rates between 2005 and 2012 compared to non-certified firms, and a 17% lower serious injury rate.”

2016 marks a pivotal year for safety. More rules and regulations are getting passed and harsher punishments are being handed down for those who break the rules and neglect safety. But despite all of this, what will truly make 2016 a game changing year for safety, is that we will start to see the beginning of a trend where one of the main differentiating factors between the best companies and the average companies is not just the quality of their work or their low bids, but ultimately, their safety performance.

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