Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) Ron Kelusky says the recent spate of deaths in the construction sector means 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.
Five construction workers died following mishaps at jobsites in London, Toronto and Oshawa between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17. The position of the CPO was created in response to four deaths also in the month of December, on Christmas Eve in 2009 when a swing stage collapsed.
“Anytime you have a series of fatalities like this it’s tragic, it’s heart wrenching and it makes you self–reflect, why can’t we get a handle on this,” said Kelusky.
“Every time there is a fatality we need to stop, whether it’s one a month or one every six months. We need to learn from everything that happens and continuously learn and work to make our workplaces safer.”
Kelusky meets with representatives of the construction sector every two weeks to discuss health and safety issues. At a time like this, he said, there has been lots of dialogue among the various construction networks and influencers and they’ve taken steps to reinforce safety messaging. “Everybody, workers, foremen, employers, general contractors, just pause for a safety moment. Let’s reset, let’s think about what we need to do,” he said.
As well, Kelusky said, noting the twin focuses, “You have to keep your eye on the longer game that says, how do we keep bending the curve downward, with respect to all injuries, critical injuries, and certainly fatalities. We’ve been successful in a couple of areas with being ever vigilant. Obviously falls in construction was very difficult for us to get a handle on but in the last couple of years we’ve managed to reduce the number of falls almost 50 per cent.
“However, you know you’ve reduced one thing then we have to start focusing on everything around it, like some of the events that occurred.”
Following investigations the CPO’s office will attempt to determine how the causes of the four fatal events fit into trends. Issues that have been raised by stakeholders such as concerns over productivity during the pandemic, distractions and stress caused by COVID health and safety protocols, the pressures of the upcoming holidays and tight project timelines will be viewed through the lens of existing research and what more needs to be done.
“The difficulty for us in some cases is the sporadic and random nature of it doesn’t give you a lot to work with in terms of trending, or the science of understanding the causes of a fatality,” said Kelusky.
“We’ve noticed that in some of our research there are particular times of day and the day of week where there is a higher incidence of injury, and whether that’s related to the day before a long weekend or the Friday before a weekend, those are the trends we really want to look at.
“We’ll never be satisfied. This is one of these things that we’re going to be doing until the end of the day, or the end of time, to get it right.”
Research on the effects of COVID and other factors will enable policymakers “to make really good decisions based on good information,” Kelusky said, although there is also an element of “gut feel” that will contribute as well.
Kelusky noted that the 10-year trend in Ontario is towards fewer construction injuries and fatalities. That is evidence of success in the occupational health and safety policies that have been developed and in the efforts of the sector.
“I give the construction industry credit, the workers to the employers to the contractors,” he said, describing how the sector came through most of 2020 with good statistics in general. On the province’s side, there have been 15,000 workplace inspections since March, he noted.
But the instances of deaths this month is a reminder of the constant need to improve, he said.
“We can’t sit on our laurels and simply say, ‘oh, this happened, it’s just a blip,’” he said.
“We try to look at this from a longer point of view, that everybody needs to go home safe and we have to do everything physically within our power, those people that have the ability and authority to be able to ensure safety, that they do so.”
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