Five worker deaths in one week prompt standdowns, calls for action in Ontario
By David Kennedy
A deadly week on Ontario construction sites has industry groups imploring contractors to redouble their focus on health and safety, and one labour association demanding immediate government action.
The spate of incidents left five workers dead across southern Ontario. Two workers were killed and four injured in a partial building collapse in London Dec. 11.
Another was killed Dec. 15 on a Ontario Tech University construction site in Oshawa. And in Toronto, two workers died in separate incidents — one on a downtown job site Dec. 14, the other on Scarborough road work project Dec. 17 after being stuck by a vehicle.
Groups such as the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) and the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) called for builders across the province to pause for safety standdowns last week.
“Now is the time to reinforce safe work procedures and the practice of performing risk assessments on all your tasks, regardless of whether they are new tasks or existing ones,” the chairs of the IHSA said in an open letter.
“With efforts focused (rightfully) on the topic of COVID‐19, including its impact on our personal lives, upcoming holidays, increased levels of spread, and the rollout of the vaccine to fight this coronavirus, it is understandable how attention can be diverted from everyday risks and hazards in the workplace.”
“It is up to all workplace parties to work even harder to increase attention to performing work in the safest manner possible,” the letter added.
Safety as top priority
The OGCA said all contractors should hold meetings with both their management teams and workers to reinforce jobsite safety as the top priority.
“We work from the perspective that one injury is too many and that every accident is preventable,” the association said in a call to action.
“With all the stresses of COVID-19, the changes in seasons, and the rush to finish work before the holiday season, it is essential that everyone comes to work fully fit for duty, focused on the tasks at hand, and that contractors put safety above all other pressures,” it added.
Broader labour groups also weighed in following the series of job site fatalities.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said “urgent” government action was required to improve safety on construction sites.
“The Ford government must immediately take action to improve protections for workers on construction sites,” Patty Coates, president of the OFL, said in a release. “Workers must be guaranteed their safety and well-being is the primary concern and focus. This recent string of tragedies makes it clear that we must do more to protect Ontario workers.”
Pointing to the deadly Metron Construction scaffolding collapse in 2009, which prompted a thorough review of workplace health and safety across the province and the significant 2011 update to Ontario’s OHS rules, the labour group said “similar urgent action is once again required.”
“We must redouble efforts to ensure that every worker is protected through robust health and safety measures and beefed-up protocols and procedures,” Coates said. “The OFL is calling on the province to strike another expert panel, and immediately launch a targeted health and safety enforcement blitz.”