By Andrew Pariser / RESCON
As the holiday season approaches, I am filled with excitement and joy, but also remembrance and contemplation. As I hope you remember, last December in Ontario the construction industry lost eight workers in less than 31 days.
We owe it to them and all workers who have died or experienced an injury to simply do better.
In this column, I want to call for a focus on health and safety in December and highlight some safety issues which should be front of mind.
Health and Safety in December
2020 was not the first tragic December experienced by the construction sector, but it hopefully will never be repeated. While 2020 saw multiple separate incidents over a short period of time, 2009 witnessed one of the worst construction accidents in Toronto’s history when the historic Metron accident occurred on Christmas Eve.
Unlike the Metron case, there is still not a deep understanding of why or how the fatalities occurred last December. Without singling out a specific case or fatality, many stakeholders in construction have contemplated several factors, including but not limited to:
- COVID fatigue;
- the weather, such as lack of daylight or other environmental factors; or
- a relaxed approach – did employers, workers and supers, distracted by the holiday season, temporarily loosen their approach to safety?
While the industry commends the work of and partnership with the Ministry of Labour (both enforcement and the Chief Prevention Office) we need to continue ongoing efforts designed to improve the timing and availability of information.
Safety Issues to Discuss in December
As we all reflect on last December, here are three key safety issues to discuss with your workers, work-teams, and colleagues.
First, let’s take time to remember and commit to do better.
Last December was tragic and it was a reminder that construction is dangerous. While we are blessed to have one of the best safety records in the world, we can still do better and must do better. In residential construction, investments in safety are at an all-time high, but safety systems, hazard assessments, and safety plans require buy-in from senior management, site supers, foremen, health and safety reps (including the joint health and safety committee), and workers. We must work together all day every day and ensure health and safety is everyone’s top priority.
Second, safety is more than just a hard hat, safety boots and fall protection equipment. While physical safety is important, so too is mental wellness and mental health.
As outlined in Amina Dibe’s column, mental wellness is just as important as physical wellness, and it has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. In addition, while the holidays can be a joyous time, it can also be a lonely and isolating time for those without family and strong emotional connections, or for anyone who has experienced a loss.
While not often talked about in construction, the tragic outcome of suicide is a real issue. Construction teams are always negatively impacted when someone within the industry is a victim of suicide or if a member of the public uses or attempts to use a construction site to end their life.
Third, winter is here, which means it is a good time to update your hazard assessments and either eliminate or mitigate any new hazard that is discovered. This includes snow and ice, extreme cold, and other environmental factors like less daylight.
The winter statistically brings an increase in trips and slips, but with hazard assessment, and either the elimination or mitigation of the hazard, this does not have to be the case. Specifically, does your worksite have a plan for winter? Has the joint health and safety committee met recently? Are safety talks, resources and plans up to date and addressing the right issues? These easy steps can make a difference.
2021 has been a tough and demanding year for everyone in construction, including on-site workers, health and safety professionals, and front-line supervisors. While enjoying the holiday season is important to prevent burnout, we must remember last December and consciously take steps to ensure it does not happen again.