Construction safety blitz targets fall hazards

Ontario inspectors issued nearly 3,500 fall-related orders in 3 months following accident that killed four workers

In the wake of a 2009 Christmas eve accident in Toronto in which four construction workers were killed and one seriously injured when their high-rise scaffolding collapsed, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour went on a three-month safety blitz.

During that time, inspectors visited more than 2,800 construction sites across Ontario and found many violations related to missing or inappropriate use of guardrails, scaffolding and fall protection systems.

Results of the blitz

Inspectors issued 3,421 fall-related orders during the blitz. Missing or incorrect use or maintenance of guardrails (853), suspended scaffolds (629) and fall protection systems (442) accounted for more than one-half of the orders.

Orders were also issued for violations involving worker training and records (296), ladders (294), stairs (237), elevating work platforms (101), suspended scaffolds and boatswain's chairs (76), window cleaning (54) and other matters such as flat roofing work, platforms, runways and ramps (439).

New safety measures announced

The province also pointed out that, between 2005 and 2009, almost 40 per cent of workers who died in work-related incidents were construction workers. In total, there were 117 workers who died in construction-related incidents. Another 998 workers were seriously injured during this same period.

As a result of the blitz, the province is implementing new measures to improve safety on construction sites, including:

Strong enforcement measures that target repeat offenders and shut down construction projects when workers' lives are in danger.

•Increased focus on training and worker supervision during inspections.

•A public campaign with health and safety partners to increase awareness of enforcement and safety in different languages.

•A toll-free telephone line for workers and the general public to report construction site work practices that appear unsafe.

A ‘call to action’

Peter Fonseca, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, said the results of the safety blitz are a “call to action.”

“We cannot and will not stand by as worker safety is compromised,” he said. “This is a shared responsibility so I challenge employers, labour groups and workers to make sure that everyone returns home safe and sound after work.”

Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, an umbrella organizations that represents more than 150,000 construction workers, said the results of the 90-day blitz show more rigorous action needs to be taken in eliminating fall hazards.

“Education, the supply and use of better equipment, proactive supervision and stronger enforcement are key to eliminating exposures to unsafe working conditions,” said Dillon.

Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction associations, said it would be a “double tragedy” if the industry didn’t take more steps to prevent fall-related deaths.

“It is in the interest of all parties to see that we properly address fall hazards,” he said.

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