TORONTO (OHS Canada)
Ontario’s labour ministry has a message for construction projects engaging in high-risk construction trades: ensure everything is in safe working order.
The point will likely be repeated often — with the goal of having that message stick long term — as part of the Ministry of Labour’s (MOL) month-long inspection blitz, which kicked off March 1. Ministry inspectors will be visiting sites that have high-rise formwork, low-rise formwork and masonry, siding and built-up roofing.
The lost-time injury rate per 100 workers for the five trades ranges from almost double to four times that of construction in general, notes a backgrounder from the MOL.
“The safety and well-being of all Ontario workers is a priority of our government. It’s especially important to make sure we’re protecting workers in high-risk trades from slips or falls that would be disastrous for them and their families,” labour minister Linda Jeffrey told reporters assembled near a residential development in Mississauga, Ontario on March 2.
The goal of the blitz is to protect workers from preventable injuries and illnesses arising from unsafe work practices, raising awareness of key occupational health and safety hazards in each trade and helping workplace parties comply with legal requirements.
But getting that general message across demands looking at specific hazards. The workers are “working at very high heights, they’re working in an area where they have no surrounding to protect them from falls, they’re working with heavy equipment, dangerous hot equipment, they’re working in a very noisy environment and they have to be alert to everything beside them, below them, above them,” Jeffrey told OHS Canada.
As such, inspectors will be taking a “zero tolerance” approach to any breach of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations.
Inspectors will check work areas to ensure they are free of hazards that cause slips, trips or falls (especially during concrete forming operations, siding, masonry and roofing work) and unsafe use of equipment like ladders, platforms and scaffolds. Inspectors will also confirm that there is adequate education, training and supervision of workers (especially for new and young workers).
“Most of the incidents involve young workers,” says George Gritziotis, Ontario’s first chief prevention officer (CPO).
Ministry statistics show that in 2010, falls in the five targeted trades claimed the lives of six workers and injured 159 others. Of those injured, almost half were young workers.
Blitzes offer two faces: compliance and awareness, suggests Gritziotis, who as CPO is tasked with developing a provincial oh&s strategy, co-ordinating and aligning Ontario’s oh&s prevention system and providing advice on the prevention of work-related injuries and diseases.
A blitz is about ensuring compliance, he said in an interview, “but at the same time, I think an important part of that is you’re creating an environment where the industry at large is aware that this is an important part of doing business.”
Dipika Damerla, Liberal MPP for Mississauga East – Cooksville, would likely agree. “Everybody knows that over time we start to take shortcuts,” Damerla says. Blitzes serve not only as a reminder not to take those shortcuts, but provide an opportunity to remind workers and employers “how important it is to observe safety protocol.”
Gritziotis says that the idea is to “incorporate blitzes into the prevention strategy.” But the effects of these campaigns must be measurable to gauge whether or not they are having the intended short- and long-term effects.
Consulting with stakeholders will help clarify which current performance metrics should be applied and which new ones need to be developed, Gritziotis says. “You don’t want to just run around and undertake blitzes without understanding what the impact is so, definitely, performance metrics will be a big part and it will help us better align what we’re doing,” he adds.
Communication among all levels — from employers to sub-contractors, workers and everyone in between — is critically important, Jeffrey emphasizes. “We need workers to look out for themselves, we need them to look out for their colleagues. This is a bottom-up, top-down approach,” the minister adds.
“We need to be able to make people work correctly, smartly and efficiently. There’s nothing to prevent being safe on a work site if you know what you’re doing and you have talked to your workers ahead of time. That preparation is everything and it makes sure everybody gets to go home at the end of the day safely,” Jeffrey says.
Click on the link below to check out MOL photos from the blitz announcement.