The numbers are in and lives have been saved but the goal of ensuring Ontario construction workers never again fall to their deaths on construction sites is far from secured.
That’s why the provincial government is reviewing the effectiveness of its mandatory Working at Heights (WAH) training standards, said Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn in a recent interview.
The current WAH training program standard came into effect April 1, 2015. Since then, Flynn pointed out, over 450,000 construction workers have received the necessary training, three times the number the ministry was initially expecting, he said.
And the first couple of years of statistics on injuries and deaths from falls showed improvement, though the final tallies for 2017 appear to show the drop has stagnated.
There are further steps to take, said Flynn.
We have certainly advocated for this. We give kudos to the minister for moving forward
— Enzo Garritano
Infrastructure Health and Safety Association
“We really have made some inroads in ways that exceeded our own expectations,” he said.
“But we want to make sure it is working. We have done a lot of work, we have invested a lot of time. I think the public has bought into it, industry has bought into it, people who work on construction sites in the province of Ontario have certainly bought into it in a big way as well.
“But if training can be improved upon, or if things are working, we want to find that out.”
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 of this year, 40 Ontario workers died in incidents on the job. Eleven of those fatalities were due to falls.
The 2016 annual report of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) indicated the number of falls has steadily declined since the new WAH training came into effect — by 5.75 per cent in 2015 and 3.54 per cent in 2016. The number of fatalities due to falls decreased from 12 in 2015 to six in 2016.
The $595,000 evaluation of the program has been contracted to the Institute for Work and Health (IWH).
“It is one thing to put in a plan you think will work and you get your best advice and you consult on it beforehand but once you have had a period of time to implement it, it is worth evaluating it,” Flynn said.
The review was welcomed by Enzo Garritano, president and CEO of the IHSA, the lead WAH training facilitator approved by Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer.
“The evaluation is an important one,” said Garritano. “We have certainly advocated for this. We give kudos to the minister for moving forward on this evaluation.
“This is something that the industry has asked about openly at our stakeholder meetings so this is good news.”
The IHSA was involved in drafting early standards after the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety led by Tony Dean recommended improved WAH training in December 2010.
Dean was commissioned by the provincial government to engage in a broad review of safety policy following the Christmas Eve 2009 swing stage tragedy.
Formalized standards were then developed through broad stakeholder consultation including the IHSA as part of the working group, Garritano explained, and the new standard took effect in April 2015.
The IHSA was named the lead training partner and since then, the IHSA has itself undertaken WAH training of over 100,000 construction workers and through the associated training partner program it has overseen the certification of training officers at some 160 to 180 outside training agencies that were required to expand capacity.
Garritano said its program includes some elements of evaluation, including Kirkpatrick Level 2 pre- and post-training learning measures to determine whether trainees actually learned the material they were studying, but the IWH has a mandate to go further.
“We support the IWH in this research,” he said.
Flynn suggested the WAH evaluation could involve reviewing the ministry’s social media marketing tactics.
“For some reason, and I don’t know why, we used Kijiji a little bit, but for some reason we got into the psyche of the general public,” he said, recounting how complete strangers would start talking to him about roofers not being tied off.
“I thought that was fascinating and there was a lesson in that.”