The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has released the final number of deaths on construction sites during the month of December as well as further details of how the fatalities occurred.
In total, eight construction workers died on the job in the month in seven different incidents, making December 2020 one of the deadliest for the sector in at least a generation.
“In my over 23 years with the association, I don’t recall any month of the year having as many construction–related fatalities as this past December,” said Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) president and CEO Enzo Garritano. “Unprecedented is probably the way to best describe it.”
“Safety of every worker is my top priority,” says McNaughton
Despite the mounting deaths, it does not appear that Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) Minister Monte McNaughton will accede to a Dec. 18 Ontario Federation of Labour call for an investigation by an expert panel.
Asked for comment on the request, a statement from the minister issued Jan. 6 responded, “Our ministry has multiple advisory groups and consultations with industry members to discuss and respond to these very issues. My door has always been open and I am pleased to have met with hundreds of labour leaders, members of management and frontline journeypersons.”
Commenting on targeted blitzes, McNaughton’s statement said, “The health and safety of every worker is my top priority. To the family and friends of the workers who sadly passed away, my ministry is investigating and we will find answers. Health and safety inspectors visit construction sites every day and there are targeted blitzes year-round to respond to risks.”
IHSA data covering the construction, electrical, utilities, aggregates, natural gas, ready-mix concrete and transportation sectors indicated that there was a total of 33 traumatic fatalities in those sectors combined for all of 2019 and 39 for 2018.
An IHSA researcher is currently further reviewing data as part of longer-term analysis of the issue.
Meanwhile, Ontario Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) Ron Kelusky responded to a request for more details on the deaths with a summary of the seven incidents but also shed some light into what might occur in the future.
Every death will be subject of coroner’s inquest
“Even though this is a high-level summary, we are analyzing everything we can to figure out why it occurred and what can we learn to avoid injuries and fatalities from occurring in the future,” Kelusky said.
He noted that every death would be the subject of a coroner’s inquest, by law. Recommendations could result from the inquests, he said, and as in the case of the multiple deaths in the 2009 Metron incident, there could be broader recommendations that would impact legislation and program structure.
Additionally, following further investigations, charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act could be laid, as could criminal or other charges.
Kelusky also outlined possible actions the CPO and the ministry might take as investigations continued.
“Generally speaking, when there is a series of events, the MLTSD does focus its efforts on compliance audits. If you recall the two tower crane instances in the fall – it led to a three-month tower crane focus by inspectors – so yes that is another outcome that occurs. As well, the health and safety associations put out industry–wide communications.
“From my perspective we want to be able to provide workers and employers with information that would help them understand what might be a factor related to the event. We did that back in January 2019 when we published the factors that contributed to falls from heights in construction.”
Kelusky also said his office was looking into why the ministry had discontinued the practice of publicly outlining details of orders and recommendations issued by inspectors in the immediate aftermath of jobsite incidents.
Kelusky said there was a change in ministry reporting practices in July 2019 and he would report at a later time why information restrictions were introduced.
In December the IHSA issued a call for the industry to pause and take stock of safety practices as the deaths continued.
“Our call to order to pause, reflect, and reset the focus on health and safety every day is just the start,” said Garritano. “We advocate for all employers to work with their staff to commit to instilling the practice of addressing all hazards in advance of undertaking tasks.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.