Hot! Fighting for safety on the job

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Wed Dec 28 2011.

When four construction workers fell to their deaths in a scaffolding accident on Christmas Eve two years ago, Ontario’s inadequate workplace safety system was exposed for all to see.

Since then, Dilshod Marupov, horribly injured in that accident, has been struggling to recover and the provincial government has been working on fixing the system that failed these five men. The promised overhaul of our safety regime and rare criminal charges against three company employees sent a long overdue signal that workplace deaths will be treated seriously in Ontario.

Some welcome changes have already taken place, including the appointment of Ontario’s first chief prevention officer. It will now be up to George Gritziotis to make sure the government implements many more of the recommendations put forward by the expert panel, which reviewed provincial workplace safety enforcement and injury prevention systems.

Gritziotis certainly struck the right tone with his first public remarks, saying he would like to see the recommendations implemented “yesterday.” That’s the sense of urgency Ontario workers need.

The 2009 Christmas Eve accident drew everyone’s attention to the problems of insufficient safety training and lax enforcement of the rules and jumpstarted change. But workplace deaths have not yet abated. There were 24 deaths on construction sites in 2010 – eight more than the year before.

Construction accidents are preventable. It’s time the province takes the steps needed to reduce them. Ontario needs mandatory safety training for construction workers and enhanced training for those in high-risk activities. Workers must be better informed about their rights and employers about their responsibilities to provide a safe work environment. All that must be coupled with better enforcement to make sure the rules are actually followed.

On paper, at least, Ontario workers already have many regulatory and legal protections. But as the inspection blitz of construction sites last year discovered, those paper protections do not always transfer to real work sites. In practice, workers were routinely found to lack the required protective equipment, training and supervision.

So as Gritziotis works to improve training requirements and safety standards, he must make sure those aren’t just improvements in a rule book. He will have to pay particular attention to the problems created by the underground economy, where illegal and vulnerable workers are subject to particularly unsafe conditions because they are unlikely to speak up at risk of losing their job.

Nothing can bring back Aleksey Blumberg, Aleksanders Bondarevs, Fayzullo Fazilov and Vladimir Korostin, who died fixing balconies. But we owe it to the thousands of workers who daily toil to build and repair our cities to make sure they make it home safely at the end of their shifts.

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