Labour Minister Harry Bains says B.C.’s new hardhat rules make workplaces more inclusive, especially for those who wear turbans or other religious head coverings, but some construction companies and workers fear safety will be risked.
Starting Sept. 1, employers will be required to review each area of a job site when determining if a person must wear safety headgear in that area.
Safety headgear-related changes WorkSafeBC is making to B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation were announced by Bains, the MLA for Surrey-Newton, on Wednesday (June 2).
Employers will determine, through a risk assessment, what safety precautions could be taken to prevent head injuries and whether a hardhat is necessary.
“Creating more inclusive workplaces is a priority for our government, and we have been advocating for a change to the safety headgear regulations for a long time,” Bains stated. “We are building an economy that benefits everyone, which includes ensuring safe workplaces are inclusive to people regardless of their faith.”
The Sikh community has raised concerns about not being able to fully participate in the workforce because of some employers’ approach to the safety headgear requirement, a government news release notes.
WorkSafeBC held public and stakeholder consultations about the issue in 2020 and early 2021, and the WorkSafeBC board of directors later approved a regulatory change when it comes to safety headgear.
The use of a hardhat as personal protective equipment is the least effective compared to other safety controls, according to Baltej Dhillon, retired RCMP officer and WorkSafeBC board member.
“This change will also allow members of the Sikh community who wear a turban to engage in dialogue with their employers to address workplace risks, which can, in turn, eliminate the need for a hardhat in certain scenarios,” Dhillon said in the government news release. “This change supports worker safety and will allow more Sikhs to come to work without having to compromise their religious beliefs.”
Balpreet Singh Boparai, legal counsel with World Sikh Organization of Canada, also weighed in.
“These regulatory changes support workplace health and safety and benefit not just Sikhs, but all B.C. workers,” Boparai stated. “This step makes British Columbia a leader in the accommodation of the turban, and I’m confident that government, employers and workers will work together to make these new regulations a success.”
Last fall, the B.C. Council of Construction Associations created a video showing the importance of safety headgear in construction, and interviewed two turban-wearing Sikhs at the King George Hub job site in Surrey. Both endorsed the use of hardhats for Sikhs and suggested shortened turbans as a way for them to fit better.
Said a post on cocabc.ca in September: “Labour Minister Harry Bains has proposed changes to the hardhat regulations in response to concerns raised by some in the Sikh community, but the COCA maintains the changes just aren’t practical and would endanger the workers themselves as well as their counterparts onsite.”
COCA president Dave Baspaly said despite the best safety, engineering and mitigation methods, items are still falling from heights and, at the end of the day, a hardhat is the last line of defence.
“In our world we can have a co-existence of religious freedom and safety and, when done properly, when everybody’s educated, nobody’s disenfranchised and everybody goes home safe,” Baspaly said in the COCA website post of a Journal of Commerce story.