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Inquest into 7 construction deaths hears details of fatal falls

Don Wall
Inquest into 7 construction deaths hears details of fatal falls
MLITSD — Kung So, 63, died on Nov. 9, 2019 when he fell 11 feet from a garage roof in Richmond Hill, Ont. while repairing a concrete windowsill.

An Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development health and safety co-ordinator suggested recently that gaps in safety knowledge along with contractors who take shortcuts to save costs could be two reasons why construction workers still fall to their deaths at jobsites.

Edward Wilson, regional program co-ordinator with the ministry, gave expert testimony on Dec. 1, day three of a provincial inquest into seven fatalities, all in circumstances of falls, at construction jobsites in 2018 and 2019. He was asked to address the deaths of construction workers Mykhailo Kouchil and Kung So. The death of Daniel Burkholder was also discussed.

A statement of facts outlined that Kouchil was working at a residence in Mississauga on Dec. 20, 2018. He had been hired to remove a metal awning on a house; the awning was positioned above a set of five concrete stairs and a landing.

Kouchil had climbed a ladder to do the work. Partway through the project, his partner on the job heard a thud from across the yard and found Kouchil lying on the concrete stairs and landing with the ladder beside him.

Kouchil was transferred to hospital where he succumbed to a traumatic brain injury four days later. He was 60 years old.

Inquest counsel Kristin Smith asked Wilson to speculate why Kouchil would not have set up scaffolding to do the work.

Given that Kouchil was only earning $600 for the day’s work, leasing a scaffold would have been costly, Wilson suggested.

Kouchil had taken and passed a Working at Heights (WAH) training course provided by the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association in 2015. Two years later he received a ticket from a ministry inspector for not using adequate fall protection equipment while working on a roof.

“If Mr. Kouchil had set up a scaffold to work on the awning, would this have protected him from falling, from sustaining a fatal injury?” Smith asked.

“Yes,” said Wilson.

Smith followed up: Why would Kourchil and So, who both had safety training, work without adequate protection and put themselves at risk of serious injury?

“They thought that nothing will happen to them. They’d done it a 1,000 times before. They don’t think that anything’s going to happen to those who continue to do it,” said Wilson.

Smith later asked Wilson to expand upon barriers to workers adopting safe work practices.

“I would say lack of knowledge, of knowing what’s available, different options other than working off a ladder,” responded Wilson. “It is the easiest thing to do but it’s not the safest to work off the ladder.

“Many people just figure they can start up a business, grab a hammer, grab a ladder and away I go start building houses. They need to have the proper equipment in place to protect yourself, protect the workers that you’re responsible for.”

The inquest is expected to last eight days and is being conducted by video conference.

Ontario introduced WAH training for workers employed on jobs three metres in the air or higher in 2015.

Besides Kouchil and So, the victims are Melvin Joyner, Paul Rouen, Bernard Lauzon, Daniel Burkholder and Ronald Guilbeault.

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; Guilbeault, 46, died on July 31, 2019; and So, 63, died on Nov. 9, 2019.

So was working at a house in Richmond Hill, replacing the concrete windowsill of a second-storey window situated above a garage roof, when he fell 11 feet from the garage roof. He was not wearing fall protection equipment.

Burkholder was installing a deck outside of a unit on the third floor of a multiunit residential building in Toronto and was working on an incomplete section of railing when he fell approximately 13.5 feet to the ground below. A ministry inspector found he was most likely in the process of installing the top rail of the guardrail system at the open section of the deck when he fell. He was not wearing a harness.

The cause of death was determined to be multiple blunt trauma consistent with a fall from a height.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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