WHSC training helps build safer, healthier construction sites
“Knowledge is like a power tool. If used properly it can greatly improve the worksite,” says Joe Popadynetz.
As a sheet metal worker, union steward and now union organizer, Joe Popadynetz, a member of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) Local 30, knows how important it is to have the right tools to complete the job. So when asked to join the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) Popadynetz wasted no time signing up for the Workers Health & Safety Centre’s (WHSC) Level 1 Construction Program
. What Popadynetz did not realize was how soon these tools would be pressed into service.
The training program which was sponsored by SMWIA Local 30, took place over two weekends. It included modules on the joint health and safety committee, workplace inspections, and investigating and reporting. Popadynetz was so impressed by the program he has since taken WHSC’s Level II Law
and is planning to take Level II Committees
in the near future.
On the Monday following his Level I
training Popadynetz was faced with a myriad of health and safety problems at his work site. The company he worked for was subcontracted to install an elaborate stainless steel exhaust system in a building owned by a pharmaceutical company. The building was undergoing extensive renovations and as such there were other subcontractors working on site as well.
This particular day many of the workers on site were overwhelmed by fumes. It became so bad they were forced to evacuate the building. Popadynetz, wearing his JHSC hat, approached the project manager, reported the problem and asked for his assistance in this urgent matter. Seemingly unconcerned the project manager sent his assistant to accompany Popadynetz. Popadynetz and the assistant inspected the site and discovered some workers were applying epoxy to the walls of a large containment pool. The pool was approximately 14 feet deep and they needed to apply up to seven layers of the epoxy to ensure the pool wouldn’t leak. The pool would be used for safe containment of lab products. These same workers were also applying epoxy to some of the floors of the building.
“None of the workers applying epoxy were wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and the fumes were affecting nearby workers and those working on the roof of the building,” explains Popadynetz. At the same time there was extensive mould and asbestos abatement taking place on site. The JHSC monitored the procedures to ensure there were proper controls in place and that the work was performed safely.
Popadynetz went to see the general contractor to tell him about the fumes and to ask him for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the epoxy. The contractor discovered they didn’t have an MSDS for the epoxy. The distributor later claimed the epoxy was “as harmless as the latex paint used to paint houses.”
“I knew from my WHSC training they were legally obligated to provide MSDS’s for all the materials on site. So I insisted on having this information. The next day the contractor gave me a CD containing the MSDS which he received from the manufacturer,” says Popadynetz. He examined the information on the MSDS and discovered that the product was considered carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic. In short, says Popadynetz, “It was really toxic stuff.”
Popadynetz also learned from his training that as a member of the JHSC he had the right and the duty to inform the general contractor of all of the hazards he found in the workplace. He met with his co-workers and also warned them about the hazards he had discovered. He put up posters he received from the Workers Health & Safety Centre which had information on the joint committee and the names of the worker representatives.
“The posters were great because most of the guys didn’t know about the joint committee and how it worked. They started to approach me with their other health and safety concerns. Most of the issues centered on PPE,” says Popadynetz. In addition to the posters, he also handed out WHSC right-to-refuse cards.
When his co-workers were forced off the job a second time because of the fumes emanating from the epoxy, Popadynetz demanded an emergency JHSC meeting. “At first management didn’t understand the process of the JHSC and thought I was just trying to get out of work when I insisted on having the meeting or when I was inspecting the workplace. Eventually they understood what I was trying to accomplish and we got down to the business of creating a healthy and safe work environment.”
The employer agreed to reschedule the epoxy application to take place during the evening when the other workers wouldn’t be exposed. They also provided proper PPE for those working directly with the toxic substance and implemented many other changes on-site.
“None of these changes would have happened without the training I received from the Workers Health & Safety Centre,” says Popadynetz. “It gave me the confidence and the knowledge to stand up for my rights as a worker and a JHSC member and push the employer to improve our working conditions.”
Joint health and safety committee members can now sign up for WHSC’s newly-approved Construction Sector Certification Part II Program. This convenient and comprehensive program contains the following modules:
Worker Trades Committees
Hazards of Dust & Fibres
Confined Space Entry Hazards
Manual Material Handling
Walking & Working Surfaces
Hazards of Hoists, Cranes & Rigging
Heavy Mobile Equipment Hazards & Traffic Control
Vehicle Emission Hazards
Hazards of Formwork
In addition to the Construction Sector Certification Part II Program, WHSC also offers as part of their Level I Construction Program the following three-hour modules specific to the Construction Sector:
Joint Health & Safety Committees Construction
Regulations for Construction Projects
Ontario Legislation Construction
Rough Terrain and Forklift.
Further, the WHSC offers several bulletins on hazards common to construction sites. Entitled Resource Lines, publications on the following hazards can be found at www.whsc.on.ca/pubs/res_lines.cfm.
Working at Heights
Manual Material Lifting
MSIs of the Upper Body.