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Inquest into 7 deaths from falls may highlight gaps in outreach

Don Wall
Inquest into 7 deaths from falls may highlight gaps in outreach

A provincial inquest into the deaths of seven construction workers from falls on the job could shed light on gaps in Ontario’s training system including reaching self-employed contractors, suggests a health and safety training expert.

The inquest began Nov. 29 and is being conducted by video conference. It’s expected to last eight days and hear from approximately six witnesses.

The victims are Melvin Joyner, Paul Rouen, Bernard Lauzon, Daniel Burkholder, Mykhailo Kouchil, Ronald Guilbeault and Kung So.

Joyner, 58, died on Jan. 20, 2018; Rouen, 68, died on Feb. 27, 2018; Lauzon, 66, died on July 19, 2018; Burkholder, 61, died on July 20, 2018; Kouchil, 60, died on Dec. 24, 2018; Guilbeault, 46, died on July 31, 2019; and So, 63, died on Nov. 9, 2019.

Dr. Geoffrey Bond is the presiding officer. An inquest into the deaths is mandatory under the Coroners Act. A jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths.

Working-at-heights (WAH) training for construction workers has been proven to reduce the incidence of falls but safety advocates recognize not every construction worker takes the training.

Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) CEO Enzo Garritano noted all of the workers were either independent owners or contractors.

“I would think that the means of how we connect with such independent operators will be a subject of discussion at the inquest,” he said in statement before the inquest started.

“I can say without question that self-employed contractors (those that have not registered with WSIB as an employer) are difficult to reach since we do not have access to their contact information.”

Ontario introduced WAH training in 2015 for workers employed on jobs three metres in the air or higher. The training was recommended by a provincial advisory panel created by the province’s Minister of Labour following the deaths of four workers who plummeted 30 metres when the suspended work platform they were working on collapsed on Christmas Eve 2009.

The incident occurred at a construction site on Kipling Avenue in Toronto. An inquest was held in February 2022.

The IHSA is a training provider for WAH training and IHSA staff will be supporting the current inquest.

Ontario saw a 19-per-cent decline in the incidence rate of fall injuries targeted by the training according to a study from the Institute for Work & Health.

Garritano said the IHSA does its best to reach self-employed contractors through social media, industry awareness campaigns such as those held at home renovation stores, the IHSA website, and getting the word out to general contractors and buyers of services.

“Those that do not have to register with WSIB, there is no formal mechanism to reach them with information on health and resources available to them to help keep them healthy and safe,” he said.

An updated WAH Training Program Standard will take effect on April 1, 2024.

A previous joint inquest into the deaths of four workers who died after a fall from heights at various construction sites in Toronto and Vaughan was held in October 2022.

Athanasios Batsos, 53, died on Sept. 30, 2017; James Pearce, 50, died on Aug. 11, 2018; Nikolaos Psihopedas, 70, died on June 6, 2018; and Ferdinand Staffa, 82, died on Aug. 11, 2018.

Among the 11 deaths, all but one of the workers was aged 50 or older.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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