SCSA president Collin Pullar recently sat down with Mike Court, chair of the Construction Safety Research Alliance (CSRA) and Senior Vice President of HSEQ & Sustainability at Graham Construction to discuss the science of safety in construction, how research and technology are bringing change to construction safety management, and where safety fits within the ESG framework.
Three little letters
The role ESG (environmental, social, governance) plays in the industry is growing. For anyone in a decision-making position—whether on the board of a company, as the owner and operator, or on the management team—ESG standards are becoming more commonplace. Within each letter are several factors that companies can consider when evaluating their priorities.
Environmental factors in construction and the connection to safety can seem perhaps the most straightforward, including waste diversion, carbon reduction programs, green building, energy efficiency, air quality and noise or vibration reduction.
Where safety fits
Court shares that the “S” (social) in ESG is where safety is found. He says safety of products, public safety, community relations, Indigenous partnerships, labour relations, workforce safety, health and wellness and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) are examples of what falls under the social pillar. “Some companies that are publicly traded are having to go down this path a lot faster than most and get the rating systems in place,” he says.
For companies bidding on projects, requirements are popping up that may not have been in place before. “There have been quite a few new requirements in our bidding processes, including asking for anti-slavery policies and questions about how you are ensuring your supply chain down the line is not employing slavery or child labour,” says Court. “That was somewhat new to us over the last two or three years and there’s more coming.”
Governance is also tied to safety, where companies can show that they’re behaving ethically. “There’s a strong linkage for the compensation for executives and how they perform in these other areas and the social aspect—the physical health and safety of the workers and what they’re doing around mental health,” says Pullar.
Pullar points out that purchasers of construction are looking at ESG more and more, with firms embedding ESG into executive compensation. “Not only are companies expected to behave a certain way but also the companies that they purchase from,” says Pullar. “It’s important for everybody to understand that while you might be a small company and think ‘this doesn’t sound like it would apply to me today,’ it’s certainly applying to somebody in the chain.”
Thinking outside the box
In the past, safety has primarily been looked at through a physical lens—physical injuries and visible trauma. But other aspects like mental health, work-life balance, and diversity of workforce all have some connection to safety and need attention as well.
Court mentions a mental health research study underway with the CSRA. “We know the construction industry is struggling with mental health, and health and wellness in general. That’s a very important piece of research we’re doing,” he says. They hope to help industry leadership identify issues and deploy resources where they are needed most.
Beyond addressing these areas, it also matters how companies communicate about what they are doing. Pullar acknowledges it can seem overwhelming, but it may be a matter of connecting what the company is already doing in daily practice to these principles. He also points out that small companies can show their participation in ESG for things like sponsoring local community activities. “These are the things that I think more and more buyers, particularly from the public sector, are going to become very interested in,” he says.
What matters in the end
The social pillar is all about people. “It comes down to protecting our people and protecting our communities in which we work,” says Court. In focusing on preventing serious injuries and fatalities in the construction industry, he encourages others to be active listeners and consider new ways of doing things. “We need to be asking lots of questions and challenging sacred cows. At the end of the day, it’s about making sure our people get home safe every day.”
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