Comment: Safety first; safety always
By Adam FreillConstruction Health & Safety
Having worked at and toured far too many construction sites to count, some of the things I’ll never get comfortable seeing are coroner’s reports and news stories about yet another accident or death on a construction site, especially since so many of them are preventable.
Construction has always been a dangerous occupation. In 2020, 193 of the 921 workplace deaths reported in Canada were in the construction sector. That’s more than 20 per cent, and number 1 on a list that nobody wants to lead.
While it is too soon to have the consolidated figures for 2021 and 2022, you don’t have to spend much time on Google to find reports about incidents involving cranes, trenches, falls and heavy machinery from the past two years, including multiple reports about incidents this past summer that will be included when the 2022 fatality figures are compiled.
A few years back, former Blue Jays catcher and current broadcaster Buck Martinez explained to me that the play gets faster the closer you get to the field, and his comment rings loud in my head when I hear workers explain why they didn’t go back to the truck for their harness, or that they were just hopping into a machine to quickly move it without thinking about a spotter, or that they thought they could save a little time by stretching a little further rather than moving scaffolding or a ladder.
It’s easy to point out flaws after the fact, especially since things can happen quickly on a jobsite and small mistakes or the pushing of boundaries can suddenly result in unexpected consequences. It’s why I’m impressed when I hear someone on a site remind a fellow worker about things like eye protection or moving a ladder, or when I tour a site and see a priority placed on safety, and that workers are made aware of potentially dangerous situations.
With the construction sector in need of a massive influx of new workers, a focus on safety is going to be even more important than ever over the next few years. Young workers, new Canadians, and even mid-career workers who are new to the sector should all be made aware of safety regulations, including their responsibilities. And it should not be assumed that “common sense” will prevail. It falls on an employer to ensure that the people on their sites have proper training, have appropriate licenses, and are acting in a proper manner.
The most recent job vacancy figures show that Canadian construction firms were looking to fill more than 80,000 openings this past July alone. This level of opportunity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if a worker doesn’t feel safe they should be able to move to another company fairly quickly. On the other hand, it increases the risk that employers may have to hire anyone they can get, including workers who either don’t know how to work safely, or worse, who refuse to do so.
Companies that put a focus on safety can influence new workers to watch out not only for their own safety, but also that of their fellow workers, which goes a long way towards building a jobsite culture that attracts workers who foster a positive work experience.
By prioritizing safety and making it an expectation and part of a company’s culture, it is possible to reduce the risk of yet another headline announcing that one less worker will make it home tonight.
Until next time, stay safe and do good work.
Adam Freill / Editor