Alarming number of workplace deaths leads to safety blitz
October 18, 2013 by PATRICK CALLAN
Nine Ontario workplaces deaths since June has prompted the Ministry of Labour to launch a province-wide “fall safety blitz” of construction sites until the end of October.
The focus is on workers’ safety at heights, sloped roofing at low-rise residential construction sites and after hours inspection. The goal is to promote awareness and ensure safety standards set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act are being followed.
Ontario’s Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi said workplace safety is the number one priority. “We are working hard to ensure that both employees and employers know their rights and are fulfilling their responsibilities,” he said.
Since 2003 workplace injuries have declined by 30 per cent, he said, but there is still much more work to be done.
“Fall-related fatalities this summer drive that point home,” he said.
The key, he said, is to be proactive. That’s why in addition to educational programs, construction sites across Ontario are being checked to make sure employers are providing safe workplaces, and that those working on ladders, mobile stands and platforms are being properly trained and supervised.
Employers who fail to do so will be held accountable to the full extent of the law, he said, citing a landmark Toronto case from 2009 when four workers died and a fifth was critically injured after their scaffolding broke 13 floors above the ground. It was the first time a firm in Ontario had been convicted of criminal negligence.
Naqvi said the company, Metron Construction, was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and initially received a fine of $250,000, however the Ministry of Labour appealed the decision and managed to get it increased to $750,000.
“The court was very clear that these types of accidents are preventable and if the rules and regulations that are outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act are not met, then there will be hefty fines to be paid,” he said.
Through traditional and social media, the Ministry of Labour is working to educate not only employers and employees, but also the general public about the dangers that exist on construction sites.
“At the end of the day this is about keeping workers safe,” he said.
Naqvi is encouraging citizens to report any unsafe practices they see taking place at either residential or industrial construction sites to the Ministry of Labour. “I think it’s extremely important that people remain vigilant to protect workers,” he said. “One fatality is one too many.”
George Gritziotis, chief prevention officer, also expressed his disappointment with the spike in the numbers of fall-related deaths in Ontario this summer. “What is even more disturbing is that falls are one of the most common workplace tragedies,” he said.
Preventing injuries and fatalities requires workplace partnerships to support awareness and education programs, as well as appropriate enforcement, he said.
Education about rights, responsibilities and best practices is the first step towards improving workplace safety. There are many free resources available online regarding awareness training requirements and the Ministry of Labour will soon be unveiling a “Working at Heights Training Program Standard” this fall.
“We cannot achieve the goal of safe workplaces alone,” he said. “The recent workplace fatalities are a painful reminder to us that we—each and every one of us— must take direct, personal responsibility for prevention, regardless of where we work.”
For more information about workplace safety visit www.labour.gov.on.ca.
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