B.C. provides more services for construction workers

$1 million investment will help expand association's project

B.C. provides more services for construction workers

British Columbia is investing $1 million to provide more drug-poisoning prevention services for construction workers in the province.

The funding was delivered to the Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA), and will help expand its Tailgate Toolkit project. The project which will reduce the stigma associated with substance use, and raise awareness of pain management, pathways to treatment and other information about mental health and substance use.

“The toxic drug crisis continues to take lives at a tragic rate. In cases where we know where someone worked, nearly 20% of those who died worked in trades, transport or as equipment operators,” said Sheila Malcolmson, minister of mental health and addictions. “I am grateful to the Vancouver Island Construction Association and our partners for bringing the Tailgate Toolkit directly to the workplace. It will save lives and connect people to the services and support they need.”

The expanded toolkit will allow workplaces to educate staff about substance use to help prevent toxic drug deaths, as well as harm-reduction and recovery strategies and employee resources. Workers with substance-use challenges will also have access to weekly support groups facilitated by front-line workers with lived experience of substance use and working in the construction industry.

The toolkit will include training for managers and responders to recognize and provide support for people with substance-use and mental-health challenges, including mental-health first aid, naloxone training, pain management and more.

Under the project, construction associations throughout British Columbia, including the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA), the Southern Interior Construction Association (SICA) and the Northern Regional Construction Association (NRCA), will also host dedicated harm-reduction co-ordinators. They will also provide access to print and digital resources developed in consultation with regional health authorities to highlight the harm-reduction and recovery services available to workers within and beyond their benefit packages.

“We are eager to continue the work that we have been piloting over the past year and would like to thank the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions for entrusting the Vancouver Island Construction Association with this funding,” said Rory Kulmala, chief executive officer, Vancouver Island Construction Association. “Through the support of our membership and our industry partners, we have been able to develop a truly grassroots initiative specifically designed for our workers including access to resources and support, which they may not have realized were available to them.”

The toolkit has been developed in consultation with people with lived and living experience to ensure it is useful and relevant to people in the construction industry.

With regards to stress and mental health, those working in the construction sector are particularly at risk, according to Dr. Khush Amaria, a clinical psychologist and senior clinical director for CBT Associates and MindBeacon digital therapy.


Several stakeholders had positive comments about the project.

“The toxic-drug crisis affects people from all backgrounds, ages and socio-economic experiences, and we need a variety of tools and strategies in place to save lives,” said Jonny Morris, chief executive officer, Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.“We applaud the work of the Vancouver Island Construction Association in developing resources designed to respond directly to the needs of people in the trades and construction industries in a way that works for them. We are encouraged by the project’s focus on reducing stigma and the important effort to connect trades and constructions workers to care.”

“This is another important example of how construction leaders are leaning in to support the industry's essential workforce.” said Chris Atchison, president, BC Construction Association. “By creating safe and accessible resources that help destigmatize the realities of mental-health and addictions issues, we can further demonstrate our commitment to the communities in which we live, work and build. We're looking forward to supporting this regional initiative as it rolls out across British Columbia.”

Meanwhile, Trevor Botkin, executive director and project manager, HeroWork Victoria, shared that when he struggled with addiction, he was completely unaware of resources that may have helped him get out of his situation.

“I believe the toolkit will reduce stigma surrounding substance misuse in the trades and save lives by fostering deeper conversations, understanding and highlighting the resources needed to support workers, supervisors and employers,” he said. “It is my hope that others may find the support, direction and courage they need to step out of the darkness and find the peace in their lives that they deserve.”

Alarming numbers

Through the first ten months of 2021, 1,782 people died from illicit drug overdoses in B.C., according to a report from CBC citing data from the B.C. Coroners Service.

That surpassed the 1,765 deaths recorded in all of 2020.

"Simply put we are failing," said Lisa Lapointe, B.C. chief coroner, according to the report. "With six people now dying every single day in our province, the status quo cannot be accepted."

The province also saw a single month record high of 201 illicit drug overdose fatalities in October.

According to the BC Coroners’ Service, between January and October 2021, 79 per cent of those who died from suspected illicit drug toxicity were men. According to the 2020 Labour Force Survey, 86% of the construction workforce is male.

Suicide is a rising concern for construction industry, according to a previous report.