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Construction safety in the spotlight and under scrutiny in 2020

Lindsey Cole
Construction safety in the spotlight and under scrutiny in 2020

Typically when compiling the top newsmakers the Daily Commercial News (DCN) team looks at the issues that evolved throughout the course of the year, with government policies, new technologies, major infrastructure projects and industry milestones taking centre stage.

While it is no surprise that COVID-19 dominated the headlines in 2020 overall, what did come as a shock to us in the newsroom, and to many in the sector, is the number of high-profile and tragic incidents that took place, beginning in the summer months and ending in tragedy in December.

It’s these incidents that make up the top DCN headlines for 2020.

Our selections are not based on the fact the headlines are attention-grabbing, but rather the stories reiterate the importance of being vigilant on site each day as the construction industry continues to navigate a global pandemic along with the daily risks that are inherent on sites in general.

Multiple crane collapses and near misses in Toronto

During the summer months and even into fall there were several major crane incidents that occurred in various parts of Toronto — all of them near misses with only minor injuries reported.

The first took place in July when a large crane hit a building in downtown Toronto. The incident occurred on a PCL Constructors site at 160 Front St. near Simcoe and Wellington Streets. It took a crew of workers and engineers as well as three other cranes to dismantle the massive piece of equipment.

Then less than a month later, in August, a mechanical failure led to the partial collapse of a crane at a Daniels Corporation site located at the northwest corner of Dundas and River Streets.

Two people were treated for minor injuries but did not require hospitalization. The crane fell into the intersection near the site.

Both of these incidents prompted Toronto Mayor John Tory to call for speedy investigations into the causes.

In the fall, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development announced it was cracking down on tower crane safety in the aftermath of the two collapses with a special safety blitz. The hope was to visit the 200-plus tower crane sites across the province during a four-month initiative.

Shortly after this story was reported by the DCN, an incident occurred in November where a construction worker suffered minor injuries after a mobile crane sank and toppled with its boom falling across two vacant traffic lanes on Eglinton Avenue in midtown Toronto.

The worker was not the crane operator, but rather another member of the crew who slipped on ice and banged his knee while trying to escape the falling boom.

A dark December for construction

December 2020 marked one of the worst months for construction fatalities in Ontario since the 2009 Christmas Eve swing stage collapse that killed four workers and ultimately changed the construction safety landscape with new health and safety protocols.

In one week, five deaths occurred at four different jobsites across the province. And just over a week later another worker was killed at a Windsor jobsite.

John Martens, 21, of Langton, and Henry Harder, 26, of Tillsonburg, died as a result of injuries suffered when a four-storey building under construction in London collapsed on Dec. 11.

Andrew Orfanakos, 48, of Newmarket, was killed Dec. 14 while working on a construction site at Widmer and Adelaide streets in Toronto.

Paul Moro died Dec. 15 when he was crushed by a slab of concrete at an Ontario Tech University jobsite in Oshawa.

On the afternoon of Dec. 17, a traffic signaller at a construction site in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough was struck and killed by a motorist.

And on Dec. 26 emergency crews were called to a construction site on Cantelon Drive in Windsor following the collapse of a wall under demolition. The worker who was killed was reported to be 24 years old.

While the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is still investigating the circumstances surrounding these deaths, construction stakeholders in Ontario are calling for a “pause” to regroup and refocus on safety and Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky said health and safety policymakers need to renew calls for vigilance across the sector and at the same time gather the facts and learn from the tragedies.

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