Ontario’s chief prevention officer for workplace safety is developing a construction action plan, which is designed to reduce fatalities and includes several new initiatives including entry level training, fall protection and enforcement.
"Since 1998, we have been cycling between 15 and 30 fatalities on an annual basis. We have to break that cycle," said George Gritziotis, Ontario’s first chief prevention officer. "What this trend is telling me is the approach we have been taking out there has got us stuck. So, I believe with a lot of the support and all the changes that are being put forward…we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference, and to be leaders for all other sectors. This is my challenge in construction, and quite frankly it is our challenge together."
Gritziotis made this comment on Oct. 17 at the 57th annual convention of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario held in Niagara Falls, Ont.
According to Gritziotis, the fluctuation in fatalities in each year is driven by the business cycle, because there are increases and decreases in total construction employment.
However, in terms of reaching the main goal in Gritziotis’ mandate, which is to reduce all construction fatalities to zero, the system seems to be unable to achieve that outcome.
"The action plan is something that I am presently working on. But, the reality is it will be a multi-faceted plan that will engage stakeholders right across the health and safety system," said Gritziotis. "The plan will include government, labour, employees, owners, supervisors and the public. It will be a plan that looks at the entire continuum of occupational health and safety, ranging from awareness and education to compliance and regulation, all the way to enforcement."
The first measure in the action plan is mandatory entry-level health and safety training for all construction workers. This includes all construction workers, not just entry-level workers.
"I assembled a committee of labour and employees from industry, and rapidly developed a standard," said Gritziotis. "In November, we will be going out to stakeholders to consult on that standard. My goal is to push it towards regulation next year."
This measure is a key recommendation made by the Expert Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, which was headed by Tony Dean.
The panel was a response to the Toronto swing-stage tragedy, in which four construction workers plunged 13 storeys to their deaths while conducting apartment restoration work on Dec. 24, 2009. A fifth worker survived the fall, but sustained serious injuries.
As a result, the next regulatory measure in the action plan is fall protection, which is another recommendation from the Dean report.
"I have already built the standard and we are consulting on it. We have consulted on the regulations as well," said Gritziotis.
"The next step is for me to build the administration that would oversee the assessment of both training providers and training programs. We will be taking it through the legislative review process with government, and my goal is to have an enforce date for the next construction season, which is early 2015."
The last measure, called Safe at Work, is an existing initiative which involves consultation by the Ministry of Labour with stakeholders to determine what areas should be targeted for enforcement efforts.
This includes the approach that will be taken to implement the enforcement plan for next year.
The action plan requires the active participation of various partners that make up the Ontario building and construction trades. Gritziotis said his vision is for a "sustained plan" which would make an impact at the end of a 12-month planning period.
"My goal in reviewing that cycle (fatalities) is what are those things we need to do now to bring it down to the level that we all aspire to, which is zero fatalities," he explained.