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New project? Ask the owner about hidden safety risks

Image of an architect and site lead talking in an office
Business owners often know a lot of details about their buildings, including potential safety risks. Have a chat about possible risks before you start work on a project.

BC Hydro safety advisor offers a few tips that could avoid injury or worse

Dino Pastro is well aware of how it sounds – BC Hydro pushing it's safety protocols on contractors – but he urges you to take a moment to consider a few basics that aren't about arduous procedures and red tape. They're about good, common sense ways to avoid injuries, both minor and serious.

"I think that sometimes what we ask for tends to feel like we're overburdening a contractor," says Pastro, a BC Hydro project safety planning lead who advises contractors working on BC Hydro projects. "But what we're asking for is not unreasonable."

Those rules don't apply directly to members of the BC Hydro Alliance of Energy Professionals who are working on commercial or residential projects that may involve BC Hydro programs and incentives. But Pastro believes all contractors can pay closer attention to potential risks.

A case in point is taking advantage of an owner's experience with a building to avoid hidden safety challenges. Those issues can range from weakened stairs or roof areas to dated wiring.

"It really helps to be informed about everything at a site, by asking the right questions," says Pastro. "In some cases, a resident or small commercial business owner may not even think something is a hazard. It might not be something they had thought to share."

Pastro has a personal anecdote to illustrate unexpected risk. A few years back, he had to inform his mom that her East Van home still had asbestos in it. If he hadn't discovered it, he said some unsuspecting plumber or electrician could have been put in a risky situation.

Alliance members are encouraged to check Technical Safety BC for safety training and learning information, including the excellent blog post top 22 changes about the 2018 electrical code.

It's easy to overlook, like the car accident you think will never happen

It's human nature to de-emphasize safe behaviour when you've been accident-free for years, decades, or even your entire life. We're all hyper aware, for example, immediately after we've been in a car accident. Then we tend to let that vigilance slip.

"If you've never experienced an incident, your level of risk tends to be whatever you're comfortable with," says Pastro. "And so that's typically what we teach at BC Hydro. If you've never experienced an incident, you probably don't realize the risks you're taking."

As a refresher, here are a few links to excellent advice from WorkSafeBC:

If something looks unsafe, you can refuse to do work

The right to call an immediate stop to work where risks are identified is a staple of BC Hydro's safety program, and it also applies – through WorkSafeBC's refusing unsafe work policy – to all employees in B.C.

Specifically, the WorkSafeBC policy states that "If you have reasonable cause to believe that performing a job or task puts you or someone else at risk, you must not perform the job or task. You must immediately notify your supervisor or employer, who will then take the appropriate steps to determine if the work is unsafe and remedy the situation."