December 23, 2011

Toronto swing stage tragedy still resonates

The second anniversary of the Dec. 24, 2009 swing stage tragedy that claimed the lives of four construction workers brought needed attention to Ontario’s occupational health and safety practices.

“The incident shook everyone across Ontario. It was a hard message to hear and certainly our grief and our sympathy are with those families on this anniversary,” said Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey, speaking at a recent event about occupational health and safety awareness.

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“That tragedy was our wake-up call and the (Tony) Dean panel report was a call to action.”

Four construction workers plunged 13 storeys to their deaths on Dec. 24, 2009 from this apartment building in northwest Toronto


Four workers plunged 13 storeys to their deaths on Dec. 24, 2009 when this swing stage broke apart at a Toronto project site. The tragedy triggered a call for OH&S reform.

The accident triggered industry-wide outcry and occupational health and safety recommendations (released in December 2010) made by Tony Dean and his expert advisory panel. The panel reviewed Ontario’s occupational health and safety system through numerous consultations. The panel’s resulting report made 46 recommendations, which included the appointment of the province’s first Chief Prevention Officer, George Gritziotis.

Also, a lot of the momentum resulted since February by an interim prevention council and the health and safety review secretariat, added Gritziotis.

Recently, the Ministry of Labour released the “Prevention Starts Here” program which introduces workers to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act through a workbook and posters.

A new worker awareness training workbook is aimed at increasing workers’ knowledge about their rights and responsibilities. An employer guide has also been released to help in the delivery of worker awareness training.

These resources have been released for consultation and will be available until Feb. 17, 2012 for comment. They can be viewed on the Ministry of Labour website.

A similar workbook and employer guide is under development for frontline supervisor awareness training.

In addition, there is a workplace poster available in multiple languages and online.

“Following consultations, all workplaces will be required to display this poster,” explained Gritziotis.

Getting email alerts about workers being injured or killed on the job has really resonated with Gritziotis.

“It’s magnified in my mind of what this role is all about and I’m not going to do it by myself. No one is sitting on the bleacher seats as far as I’m concerned. Anybody who talks to me is coming into the game on this,” he said, adding that it’s critical for stakeholders to participate.

He said health and safety is an area that can always be improved.

“[We have to] start talking about and anticipating what our workplaces are going to look like in the future, what our demographics are going to look like in the future and the rampant volume of work that we’re going to undertake,” he said.

“Safety shouldn’t be about only looking at training educators and coming up with solutions, it should also be about how can we better target our capacity, how we can extend our capacity with a better understanding of the what the future looks like.”

He said he would like to build that into developing an occupational health strategy and provide it to the minister in the next few months.

The event which unveiled the “Prevention Starts Here” initiative was one of Gritziotis’ first public appearances since his October appointment. He said his work has been very gratifying thus far.

“The construction industry has been good to me and very positive and not just words of accolades, but also of support, ‘we’re there to help you, we want to get involved’. That’s been a tremendous source of gratification for me,” he said.

As Chief Prevention Officer, he is responsible for: 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; and monitoring the HSAs’ compliance with standards set by the minister. He also has the authority to set standards for health and safety training.

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