Recent examples have shown that when an employee gets hurt on the job, the contractor can be in serious trouble if the accident was caused by poor safety procedures. The fines can be very significant if you’re found liable. There are some clear lessons to learn to protect yourself against this situation.
When workers are hurt, the immediate pitfalls are obvious: lost time from work, inability to work again, or worse yet — death. In instances when sloppy safety procedures are found to be the culprit, employers can find themselves in a tough situation.
Here are some recent examples that wound up in Ontario courts:
Last fall, a worker at a residential project in Vaughan, Ont., sustained critical injuries after falling about seven and a half feet off a delivery truck that was filled with two 28-foot-long beams. An investigation concluded this worker had not received adequate training on how to unload beams longer than 22 feet. The employer plead guilty and was fined $75,000 plus assessed a 25 per cent surcharge to be credited to a fund that assists victims of crime.
The lesson: Offloading large lumber requires special training and proper equipment.
In another recent accident, a worker using an acetylene gas torch to dismantle wind towers, had a piece turn inward and fall on him after a final cut. He suffered a severe and permanent injury, and given that this wasn’t the Windsor-based company’s first offense, it was fined $60,000 plus a 25 per cent surcharge for the victim fund.
The lesson: Training and supervision is required for specialized work.
In February, a worker fell from the ceiling while installing light fixtures. He was working “alone and unsupervised,” and after he exited the elevating lift into the ceiling area, he fell around 21.5 feet, sustaining critical injuries. It was determined the worker had not received training for using fall protection equipment, working at heights or using elevating work platforms. The employer received multiple charges and was fined $70,000 with the standard 25 per cent surcharge.
The lesson: Working at heights is always an issue on any job and special training must be provided first.
Recently going to appeal was a case from 2013 that involved the worst possible scenario: a work site fatality. In this instance, a worker was crushed when a machine that was being offloaded from a float trailer overturned. What happened in this instance was the machine’s left rear wheel was offset and, because the ramps had a gap, only three wheels were properly supported. Hence the machine dropped into the gap upon offloading and wound up overturning. In this case, because no spotter was in place and the incorrect ramp type was used, the company was found liable and fined $85,000 plus the surcharge.
The lesson: Safety procedures and attention to detail are vital when offloading heavy equipment.
Just in 2015, 26,000 Canadian construction workers were hurt on the job, 186 of which suffered fatal injuries. The most common injuries? Slips, trips and falls; falls from heights; struck by moving vehicles; hit by flying or falling objects; and electrocution. Your safety strategies should place special emphasis on these types of injuries.
When forming your site safety strategy, three key elements are: regular inspection, proper training and comprehensive safety and action plans. To be completely thorough, consider hiring a risk management expert to help assess your risks and create a training program. If it results in a safer work environment, it’s well worth the investment.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour offers a variety of resources on its website to assist employers in complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including: guides, fact sheets, information bulletins, guidelines, alerts, engineering data sheets, extracts, reports, consultations, codes, and standards. A complete list is found here: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/publications.php
Here are some other valuable resources to help you stay on top of safety:
- The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association Contractor’s Toolkit: https://www.ihsa.ca/PDFs/Products/Id/B045.pdf
- BC Housing’s Contractor Safety Program: https://www.bchousing.org/publications/Contractor-Safety-Program.pdf
- Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Construction OHS page, including best practices, videos, and FAQs: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/topics/construction.php
- How to understand who the constructor is under the Occupational Health and Safety Act: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/constructor/index.php
- Constructor guideline FAQs: https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/constructor/cons_3.php
With construction moving into the busy season, it’s more important than ever to maintain your priority on safety — for everyone’s sake.