CEO of Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan counts ongoing industry support as key to organization’s success

Thomas Archer has no words when asked to describe the industry support he receives for advancing road construction safety.

Archer has been the CEO of the Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan (HCSAS) since July. Since then, he has experienced again and again how employers and employees – in what the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) classifies as road construction – react to the safety training, programming and advice that his association offers.

“I find the support that the heavy construction sector gives us (at HCSAS) is really amazing,” said Archer. “Anytime anyone asks me, ‘How do you like it at HCSAS?’, I can‘t even put it into words properly.”

Valuing safe and healthy workplaces

It’s clear to Archer how important safe and healthy workplaces are to those in the heavy construction industry. He said members’ support of HCSAS goes far beyond funding the association through the premiums they pay to WCB, which form a grant provided to the association.

“We have members that will allow us to come onto their business and their property,” said Archer. “They allow us to use their equipment for powered mobile equipment training. We have members who have dug and created confined space educational pieces for us on their property.”

The HCSAS offers a lot of practical hands-on training as well as theoretical instruction, which members welcome.

“The engagement we have with the membership is pretty amazing and the fact that they want to get involved and take part and contribute is just incredible,” said Archer, who worked for the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association earlier in his career as well as the Saskatchewan Interactive Media Association.

Murray Macala (HCSAS) is showing students how to inspect construction equipment prior to use. Students are learning how to evaluate an employee to give feedback and ensure they are competent for the task.

Industry-designed safety support

The HCSAS is one of seven safety associations in Saskatchewan. These associations were organized and sponsored by employers who fall within different industry rate codes assigned by the Saskatchewan WCB. Their goal is to promote injury prevention and workplace safety through education and other initiatives. Those in Class R, which is known as Road Construction, sponsor the HCSAS.

Class R includes workers doing earthmoving, paving, dam construction, dredging, excavation, gravel work, landscaping, trenching, line construction for power and telephone, snow removal, land clearing, pipeline construction, building moving, demolition and more.

Those working in the businesses that make up the industry thoroughly understand their operations. This familiarity is important, as it allows them to identify hazards in their workplaces that could lead to injuries.

However, not every member of HCSAS has employees performing the exact same type of duties, which means not all face the same hazards. For example, the hazards involved in working on a power pole high off the ground can be different than they are for someone hauling gravel or aggregate to a site.

“What we do is we teach people how to identify the hazards that are in the scope of work that they do,” said Archer.

“We educate them on how to identify hazards, what the legislation might be around those hazards and how to mitigate those hazards.”

Training enhances an employee’s ability to detect what puts them – and others on a particular worksite – at risk of injury. They can better scan their environment, identify and consider the risks, and make adjustments to reduce the likelihood of an injury.

Murray Macala (HCSAS) and a company safety manager discuss a project and its related safety measures.

Connected to industry needs

The connection HCSAS has to industry remains strong because of how the association is structured. It, like all the safety associations in Saskatchewan, is a not-for-profit organization. It is governed by a board composed of workers and Class R employers.

Board members approve the HCSAS’s strategic plan and budget, as well as associated grant requests. They oversee operational activities, evaluate the effectiveness of the association’s programs and initiatives, and are 100 per cent accountable to their association membership.

HCSAS also stays connected to its members through its program consultants – based in the northern and southern parts of the province – who promote the safety culture. The program consultants stay in contact with members to promote HCSAS’s three main service streams: advice, education and programs.

These consultants go to members’ worksites to discuss safety. They are welcomed because they are there to educate and advise, not to penalize. They promote training through classes related to specific subjects, such as supervising other workers, hoisting and rigging, working as a flag person, ground disturbance and more.

They also encourage people to pursue safety certifications through HCSAS programs. The Certificate of Recognition (COR) provides the knowledge and tools needed to develop a recognized workplace health and safety system. Through HCSAS programming, there is also the opportunity for employees who have met the minimum standard in their safety knowledge and experience to be designated a National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) or a National Health & Safety Administrator (NHSA).

Continuous improvement through connection

While there is a lot of activity already underway, Archer said work is being done to further enhance HCSAS’s connection to industry. New platforms are being tested and embraced to increase communication and share knowledge. Some of this was prompted by the pandemic, which reduced travel by the program consultants and encouraged the use of technology to deliver training. But the interest in an even greater connection is also due to a desire for continued improvement.

“We‘ll be doing a lot more engagement around getting the membership’s expertise and bringing that to the table, too. That‘s really important to find out what our members need and from there, how we are going to develop the courses or take the courses we already have and make them even better,” said Archer.

Within the industry, he sees how the support for safe operations goes beyond what is shown to the HCSAS. Companies themselves share what they have learned about hazards and what can be done to reduce incidents and accidents.

“From what I‘ve seen so far, they talk to each other a lot and they help each other out and they share information,” said Archer. “I think that‘s really amazing, for a sector to take a look and see what‘s going on in the ecosystem and help each other out.”

Murray Macala (HCSAS) and a top man discuss an excavation.

Proving improvements

Data is an important tool to identify safety trends. The HCSAS can help employers learn how to track their safety data, such as injury numbers.

“We try to help people become aware of what that data says about how you manage your organization – and then look for trends in safety,” said Archer.

That data can help an employer identify how its own safety record is changing over time, in response to improvements and setbacks in addressing hazards.

The HCSAS can also help employers understand how their safety record compares to others in the industry. It has access to confidential data that indicates injury trends within the R11 rate code. Those numbers can point the HCSAS to opportunities for improvement in the industry through risk management, including training.

Overall, Archer said the data on injury rates shows improvement.

“Our injury rates are going down. Where our injury rates have been going over the years is down and, again, that’s credited to the industry for participating in safety and becoming more aware.”

In WCB’s latest annual report, it shows that the rate code R11, which is road construction and earthwork, saw its total injury rate fall once again in 2020. In 2016, it was 5.91 per 100 workers; while in 2020, it came in at 4.48. The time loss injury rate for that same code has also declined since 2016.

Concern for others drives safety

Archer knows most people in the industry take safety seriously – not because they are compelled to do so and not because they are driven by facts and figures, but because they care about the well-being of their co-workers and employees.

However, there are other benefits that make safety good for business, such as procurement requirements. Governments and others procuring the services of HCSAS members require those bidding on work to show they are mitigating risks by being safe.

“It gives you a little bit of a leg up against your competitors when you have a really good safety program and can show you understand how to manage risk,” said Archer.

While this is beneficial, Archer does not think it is the main motivation for employers.

“The owners I‘ve met so far do care about their workers and they want to make sure that they go home safe, especially when they‘re working with big equipment or if they‘re working with power lines. Those are high risk activities and we’re a high-risk industry.”

Reducing unnecessary pain and suffering is a primary goal of HCSAS and Archer said many association members are driven by the same goal.