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Safety in the workplace has come about from hard slogging

April 20, 2023  By Don Horne

MJ MacDonald

As Safety Week draws closer, the drive to make construction jobsites safer has taken on greater importance.

But it hasn’t been easy, says MJ MacDonald, CEO, Construction Safety Nova Scotia.

So, how has safety become more important in recent years?

“Frankly through 30-plus years of hard slogging from safety professionals and people passionate about it and recognizing this was an issue and taking some action,” says MacDonald. “It is that growing recognition and the dividends of a lot of hard work that have been done to build that awareness and shift cultures that now we believe it is not acceptable to have injuries or fatalities on site.”


It’s no longer acceptable to have a budget for building a bridge where you have budgeted for fatalities, says MacDonald. “We don’t do that anymore because of the work that has gone on for many, many, years to get us to where we are today.”

Construction Safety Week kicks off May 1 across job sites in Canada, and this year’s theme is Strong Voices, Safe Choices, advocating for everyone in the workplace to be empowered and confident in using their voices when they see potential safety hazards.

Leading up to this, workers and companies across the industry are being encouraged to take a safety pledge between leading up to May 4, reinforcing their commitment to supporting and building a strong safety culture where they work.

For MacDonald, this commitment includes tools like the Certificate of Recognition.

“We have developed tools and management systems to help employers better manage safety, such as COR (Certificate of Recognition),” she says. “There is so much more public awareness and education around safety now than there used to be. We have expanded our efforts and investments to continuously improve, and we are measuring ourselves and adjusting as needed.”

Safety has also become more important in recent years due to more young people entering the workforce who have grown up with safety, MacDonald points out, and there has been much more education done in schools and outreach towards youth around safety and worker’s rights.

“A lot is being done in the construction sector to ensure the safety of workers, including many government entities and general contractors requiring COR certification in their bids,” she says. “Companies that are a holder of a COR are about 20 per cent safer than other companies, even if they have some other safety certification.

“We are also seeing more efforts to engage the public in keeping construction workers safe, such as hotlines from various departments of labour across the country where the public can call in if they see unsafe work,” continues MacDonald.

The construction sector is also starting to expand its thinking of safety to include areas such as mental health and biological hazards, which the COVID pandemic brought to light.

“Mental health is a huge area of focus for us because we have heard from construction companies across the province that this is a big issue they are grappling with and they need resources to support their workers,” she says. “How can you be safe on the job if your mind is elsewhere? Psychological safety and physical safety go hand in hand.”

MacDonald says that data is crucial to making evidence-based decisions that are helping to keep construction workers safe. For example, analyzing data has shown that there is a problem with injuries in the residential construction sector.

“We have a few projects in the works to improve outcomes in that sector,” she says. “We are really raising the bar to listen to what the issues are and to act on them.”


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