Industrial accident prevention measures are tougher than ever, but thousands of workers still die in North America every year in workplace accidents. The number of injuries is even higher, with injuries to the eyes the most frequent. Injuries to the head, many of them due to falls, are also common. Last Monday, a worker fell more than twenty stories to his death while installing balcony railings on a condominium building under construction in Toronto.
There have been several fatal accidents on construction sites in Ontario in just the past couple of weeks, prompting Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer, George Gritziotis, to say that such tragedies are “totally unacceptable.” The Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario called the latest incident, in which a young worker fell to his death from a high-rise building he was working on, a “needless tragic death.”
The office of Chief Prevention Officer was established following a provincial review of industrial workplace safety in Ontario. The review was itself undertaken after four workers were killed in a single accident five years ago when the scaffold they were working in gave way. Late last year, the CPO announced the Working at Heights Training Program Standard to prevent falls like these and make workers safer.
Yet despite these measures, accidents are still happening. The CPO has said that we have to “increase our vigilance” to prevent them.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to take steps to prevent falls. Last year, a worker in a garage was killed when he fell from a ladder as he worked on the spring mechanism in a garage door. The company was fined $72,500 for failing to provide the worker with a scaffold, and failing to ensure that he used a fall protection system. In another recent incident, a company was fined $125,000 after a worker fell while working on a balcony that was under construction—the same situation as with the most recent accident that occurred on June 23. (That more recent accident is still under investigation.) In the previous case, in which the worker was working on an improperly equipped scaffold, the developer pleaded guilty to “failing to ensure that every employer and every worker performing work on the project complies with measures and procedures” under the relevant law.
Are the present laws enough? Are fines sufficient to deter negligence on the work site? Can every “preventable” accident be prevented? Patrick Dillon of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario believes stronger action is needed. To drive home the impact a workplace death has on the family and community, he would like to see “managers, executives and owners of companies” where a workplace death occurs compelled to attend the funeral. He wants to see zero workplace fatalities, and says that to achieve that goal we need even stronger regulations, and more inspectors from the trades to see that they are enforced.
Responsibilities of the Chief Protection Officer in Ontario
- establishing a provincial occupational health and safety strategy
- providing the minister each year with a report on the performance of Ontario’s occupational health and safety system
- promoting the alignment of prevention activities across all workplace health and safety system partners
- providing advice on preventing occupational injuries and illnesses
- advising on proposed changes for the funding and delivery of prevention services
- working with Ontario’s Health and Safety Associations (HSAs) to establish effective delivery of prevention programs and services
- monitoring the HSAs’ compliance with standards set by the minister
He also has the authority to set standards for health and safety training.