Protecting B.C.’s workers from silica dust
By Jackie Brown
BC Construction Safety Alliance’s Silica Control Tool now “live!”
By Jackie Brown
October 3, 2017 – Walk onto any construction site and you’re bound to encounter silica dust, well recognized as a potential occupational disease hazard.
Until recently, controlling exposures to the substance had been kind of hit and miss; contractors knew it was a problem but weren’t always sure when, how or even if they had to deal with it.
Now, thanks to generous support from the BC Construction Safety Alliance’s (BCCSA) Research Development and Opportunity Fund, companies have access to a free, made-in-BC computerized solution that can be used to quickly and easily assess the risks and identify precautions required to protect workers.
Developed by the BCCSA in conjunction with WorkSafeBC and researchers from the University of British Columbia, the first-of-its-kind web-based Silica Control Tool (ST) brings into one place existing monitoring data gathered from an array of industry surveys and studies on worker exposures to silica dust.
As users enter project-related information (including such variables as weather conditions and existing control mechanisms) into the online platform, the ST draws on the extensive database to create an exposure control plan (ECP) that fits the job and affords worker protection in line with WorkSafeBC regulations. The ST, which can be accessed via computer or smartphone, is available at www.silicacontroltool.com. After creating a password, users have full access to all its features.
“We are very pleased and proud to announce the release of the Silica Tool, which has been three years in the making and offers easy-to-generate, real-time solutions to a longstanding issue for the construction industry,” said Mike McKenna, executive director of the BC Construction Safety Alliance. “Silica is everywhere but managing it can be challenging, especially for projects of shorter durations. This tool will go a long way towards removing the uncertainty.”
Although it’s only been “live” since April 10, all indications point to the ST being a winner when it comes to quickly, easily and concisely managing silica dust exposure.
Among its proponents so far is Anita Riddell, Safety Manager of Scansa Construction in Victoria, who had been “eagerly awaiting” the roll out of a tool that promised to take the guesswork out of silica planning.
“Prior to the ST, we used standardized forms to develop ECPs for each project, but there was always a chance of missing a step in the controls and information process,” says Riddell. “With the ST, everything is in one place and it’s impossible to advance to the next level until the previous one has been completed. As a concrete-based company, we will be using this tool as part of our daily planning.”
Echoing Riddell’s positive assessment is Gina Huber, Health & Safety Coordinator for Conroy Exteriors in Kelowna, B.C.
Huber put the ST to the test for the first time on a recent project that involved cutting fiber cement siding.
“We got clear statements about the risks, exposure levels and precautions we needed to take,” she said. “The ECP was easy to read and follow — especially for the installers—and navigating the site was super easy. This is going to save a lot of administrative time because I can simply go online when we have a new job, fill out the information and print off the ECP for workers to review and take to site.”
For both Huber and Riddell, the ST performed beyond pre-launch publicity and expectations. Indeed, it is expected to be a game changer for many companies.
The release of the ST—a first of its kind in B.C. and Canada—coincides with and was driven by WorkSafeBC’s May 1, 2017 update of the OH&S Regulation to clarify employer requirements for protecting workers from silica dust and allow creation of ECPs based on existing monitoring data.
Jackie Brown is a freelance writer who wrote this column on behalf of the BC Construction Safety Alliance.