Although this is not a new terminology, it is important to define the notion of “principal contractor” to fully understand the new obligations incumbent upon them following the modernization of the occupational health and safety regime. As defined on the CNESST website, the principal contractor is “the owner or person responsible for carrying out all the work on a construction site.” In other words, the Act stipulates that a person must be designated to assume responsibility for coordinating the measures to be taken to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical and psychological integrity of all workers and the public. This person is the principal contractor.
What is the objective of the Act to Modernize the Occupational Health and Safety Regime?
The purpose of this overhaul is to increase the implementation of preventive mechanisms and worker participation in health and safety matters to reduce the number of occupational injuries and illnesses.
Are the prevention and participation mechanisms the same for construction sites and establishments?
No, there are distinctions between the mechanisms for construction sites and those for establishments. This means that a construction company will have to implement certain mechanisms for its establishment, in addition to those required when it acts as the principal contractor on a construction site.
So, what does the Act to Modernize the Occupational Health and Safety Regime change to the legislative provisions already in force for construction sites?
Depending on the number of workers on the construction site and the estimated total cost of the work, the principal contractor will have to implement the following mechanisms:
- Prevention program for construction sites
Mandatory as soon as there are 10 or more workers on a construction site at any one time. The objective of this program is to identify and work towards eliminating at source hazards to the health, safety and physical and psychological integrity of construction workers. This program must be adapted to each construction site. If the principal contractor’s program differs from that of subcontractors on the site, the principal contractor’s program will prevail.
- Job-site committee
Although the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety included provisions for job-site committees and prevention representatives, these were never enacted. From now on, a job-site committee will be required as soon as there are at least 20 workers on the construction site at any one time. The composition and makeup of the committee, as well as the frequency of meetings, are also specified in the law. The committee must have equal representation, as is the case for the health and safety committees for establishments.
- Health and safety representative for construction sites
The presence of a health and safety representative or HSR (formerly known as a prevention representative) is now mandatory on any worksite with more than 10 workers. The number of hours during which employees are relieved of their usual duties to attend to OHS matters , and the number of representatives required vary according to the number of people working on the construction site. HSRs are designated by all representative associations. It is the workers’ responsibility to appoint the person(s) who will assume this function. The cost of these services, however, is always attributed to the principal contractor regardless of whether there is or not an employment relationship between the latter and the designated person(s). In addition, the person(s) assuming this function must receive the appropriate training according to the conditions prevailing on the construction site involved.
- Health and safety coordinator (HSC )
A safety officer on construction sites was required when the estimated cost of the work exceeded $8 million, or when the number of workers exceeded 150. The term “safety officer” has been replaced by “health and safety coordinator,” and their presence is now required when the estimated cost of the work exceeds $12 million, or the number of workers exceeds 100. In addition, the number of coordinators required varies according to the number of workers on site. To assume this function, the designated person(s) must either hold a safety officer attestation for construction sites issued by the CNESST, or a theoretical training attestation as a health and safety coordinator issued by the CNESST or an organization recognized by the latter. This or these people will be designated by the principal contractor as soon as work begins and will be assigned to the construction site on a full-time basis.
From theory to practice
Now that the theory has been established with the regulatory guidelines, it’s time to apply these principles and obligations in the field, in collaboration with all stakeholders.
Quebec’s construction industry is constantly evolving. As a result, its OHS culture is struggling to meet and adapt to the operational challenges it generates. At a time when the obligations of the principal contractor require this role to know and foresee everything, it is imperative to rethink or establish an occupational health and safety (OHS) management system. CIMA+’s experienced OHS management team is fully conversant with legislative requirements and can establish an operational OHS system tailored to clients’ needs.
Food for thought and key points
How this new role, which is familiar to establishments in priority groups 1 and 2, will fit in with worksite reality remains to be defined. It will also be necessary to see how this role will be articulated, since an HSR must be appointed whenever 10 or more workers are likely to be on the construction site at any one time, considering the schedule, work progress and changes in the on-site presence of various trades. New HSRs will have to be appointed right up to the end of the project, which could be a challenge in itself.
The job-site committee must now meet once a week, whereas in the past meetings were held every two weeks (100 workers or more). Committee meetings must be held from the opening to the closing of the construction site, and quorum must be ensured by the presence of at least one HSC or one representative of the principal contractor, if there is no HSC, one representative of each of the employers present, and one designated representative for each of the associations representing the workers present on the construction site. The creation of a functional and effective job-site committee is therefore essential to minimize the impact on operations, while having a positive impact on risk management.
The hierarchy of preventive measures
Although the concept of a hierarchy of preventive measures is not new, and the elimination of hazards at source has been part of the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety since it came into force, the obligation to take it into account is brought to the forefront in the development of the prevention program. While these are basic health and safety principles, their day-to-day application and impact have yet to be determined.
The purpose of the Act’s overhaul and the addition of new prevention mechanisms is to enhance the current provisions set out in the regulations. It aims to reinforce the OHS culture upstream for all stakeholders on construction sites.
The inclusion of new stakeholders such as HSRs reflects the legislator’s desire to involve workers in identifying and analyzing the risks associated with job-site activities.
A period of adaptation is to be expected in an industry that is already complex due to the nature of its activities and the legislation governing it. CIMA+’s occupational health and safety management team is always on the lookout, adapting to the requirements of the Act to Modernize the Occupational Health and Safety Regime to offer its clients niche expertise tailored to their reality.