Report: Ontario Mall Collapse Caused by Decades of Neglect

October 24th, 2014

Hardhat Safety manualAccording to a scathing judicial inquiry report, the deadly cave-in of the Algo Centre Mall in northern Ontario two years ago was the result of neglect, incompetence, dishonesty and greed by the long parade of owners, engineers and municipal officials over several decades.  The scathing report says that everyone involved simply allowed the structure of the mall to rust to the point of collapse. While some of the failures were minor, others were major, and they all demonstrated a startling level of “apathy, neglect and indifference through mediocrity, ineptitude and incompetence, to outright greed, obfuscation and duplicity.”

In June 2012, the mall’s rooftop parking deck on the mall collapsed into the mall after decades of water and salt penetration finally took their toll. Two people were trapped in the rubble and died; 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo and 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin, while 19 others were injured. According to the report, the events that led to the disaster began to happen back in the 1970s, when the mall was in its planning stages. They note that putting parking on the roof was a bad idea in and of itself, but that it was made worse by a defective roof design and the use of untested materials in the creation of the parking lot.

Over its 33 year existence, the building received extensive scrutiny from architects and engineers, leading to nearly 30 visits, inspections and reports from various experts and agencies. Unfortunately, none of these resulted in any sort of fix for the leaks that were so common that many referred to the centre as the “Algo Falls.” Experts seemed to ignore the “moral and ethical foundation” of their vocation, as well as failed to realize the effect of the rust on the integrity of the mall’s structural steel, according to the report, which suggests that engineers performed inspections that were “so cursory and incomplete as to be essentially meaningless,” and that they were more concerned with making the clients happy than protecting the public.

The report was especially harsh in its criticism of Robert (Bob) Wood, the last engineer who signed off on the structural stability of the mall just a few weeks before the collapse, and whose work and conduct were described as “markedly inferior.” Previously, Wood, who is facing criminal charges in connection with the collapse, admitted to falsifying his report to appease the owner of the mall. His inspection report was described as being “was similar to that of a mechanic inspecting a car with a cracked engine block who pronounces the vehicle sound because of its good paint job.” In addition, municipal officials ignored numerous public complaints and warnings regarding falling concrete and large leaks. Even the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which had offices in the mall, was unresponsive to numerous complaints.

The report makes 71 recommendations, include setting minimum maintenance standards for buildings, more inspections with more teeth, and an expanded emergency response capability, even though the one area of praise in the entire report was for the initial local emergency response. The Ontario government has promised a quick review of the recommendations.

LOTO Lockout/Tagout App Gets Update

October 23rd, 2014

Lockout Tagout AppThe use of mobile devices in the workplace is spreading to many areas that have nothing to do with IT, but which have everything to do with making equipment safer.

One prime example of this comes with a smartphone and tablet app developed by Toronto-based Master Lock that it calls LOTO (Lockout/Tagout). The app specifies a series of procedures that workers must follow when they are either shutting down or reactivating machinery. By using this app, safety and compliance officers can be reasonably sure that all energy sources and equipment have been properly locked out before servicing, which reduces the likelihood of workers being injured or killed.

Just recently, the company updated the module, so that it includes the following:

  • Authoring Procedures with Audit Scheduling: This module makes it easier to set up recurring annual audit schedules, as required by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). By automating the scheduled audits, it’s less likely they will be missed.
  • Compliance: App users can give themselves as much time as they need to properly prepare for planned equipment shutdowns, as well as the ability to prepare for audits up to 90 days in advance.
  • Real-time Visibility: This gives app users visibility into equipment that doesn’t currently have a published LOTO procedure in Field iD. This helps ensure that all equipment has procedures available for those times when a lockout is needed. The complete view of all locked out equipment allows app users to stay on top of all on-going maintenance and work.

This app allows managers to create a list of lockout procedures, and also includes photos showing a machine’s isolation points. When a worker scans a procedure sheet attached to the machinery using the app, the app will take the employee through each step of the proper procedure. In addition, the app will record the time and date of each step.

OSHA Delays Crane Operator Certification until 2017

October 22nd, 2014

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a final rule that will extend the deadline for crane operators to be tested and certified by three years. Based on this rule, crane operators will now have until November 10, 2017 to obtain a valid certification. Those operators without a valid certification as of that date will not be able to run a crane at a construction site anywhere in the United States. Originally, operators had until November 10 of this year to obtain their certification, but industry groups pushed back on the original rule and received the extension.

After its original February 10, 2014 proposal to extend the deadline, OSHA received more than 60 comments. Some experts were concerned about language and the rule that would’ve required tests to be organized based on the type and capacity of the crane. Others question whether passing a standardized test was sufficient for employers to determine the competency of the operator. According to some commenters, however, such decisions should be left to employers.

A number of experts questioned the validity of existing certifications. OSHA investigated and concluded that, of the four nationally accredited examiners, two were not in compliance with existing rules. This is based on the fact that they only tested to the type of crane and not capacity. Because of this, OSHA realized that fewer than 15 percent of current crane operators are certified properly in compliance with the current rule, which require certification to type and capacity, so they extended the deadline. During the delay, the agency says it will conduct a more thorough examination of its crane operator testing requirements and decide whether or not to draft a new rule. It will also use the time to encourage the other 85 percent of crane operators to be tested  and certified based on the new requirements.

Ontario Enhances Ebola Protections

October 21st, 2014

Due to increasing concerns over the possible introduction of the Ebola Virus in Ontario, the provincial government has released details of its enhanced preparations to protect the health and safety of residents. The new measures were developed based on guidance from in workplace health and safety specialists for workers in health care, as well as experts in occupational health and safety.

The purpose of these enhanced measures is to strengthen the ability of frontline health care workers to contain and treat any infectious illness, whether it’s Ebola or any other illness. The measures will hopefully further protect everyone’s safety including that of the health care workers who have to deal with these cases.

Many of  the new measures being taken will seem very familiar to oh&s professionals. They include the use of new personal protective equipment, such asN95 protective respirators, as well as more stringent training requirements for those who are tasked with containing and treating Ebola. They have also designated and set up specific hospitals in Ontario as referral hospitals to treat potential Ebola cases and all possible Ebola specimens will be screened exclusively at Public Health Ontario’s provincial labs beginning this week. They will also assign appropriately outfitted ambulances to transport potential cases of Ebola to the specially designated hospitals for treatment.

The current Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in March 2014, but has grown quickly enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Ebola a public health emergency of international concern on August 8, 2014. So, far, ten patients in Ontario have been tested for possible Ebola infection, but all tested negative, and there are no confirmed Ebola virus cases in the province.

Canada Labour Code Changes Take Effect Oct. 31

October 20th, 2014

Canada Labour Code Workplaces throughout Canada should be aware that several amendments Part II of the Canada Labour Code will take effect October 31, 2014, and the changes will have an impact on all federally regulated employers.

The purpose of Part II of the code is to protect the health and safety of workers by preventing accidents and injuries, by allowing workers the right to refuse work when they have a reasonable belief that the work is dangerous enough to cause the injury. The new changes actually change the definition of “danger” under the code when it comes to refusing work.

Over the last few years, concerns have been raised regarding the number of work refusals that were not justified. According to statistics from the Department of Finance, approximately four out of every five work refusals were later determined to be situations in which no danger was present.

Because of this, the new amendments were passed, redefining “danger” in a more restrictive way. Under the new rules, work refusals will only be justified in situations where a worker is faced with imminent or serious threat to his or her life or health. The actual text of the amendment reads:

“Any hazard, condition or activity that could reasonably be expected to be an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected or the activity altered.”

Under the new amendments, there is a new process in place for investigating the circumstances behind a work refusal. First, the employer and the worker are required to conduct an internal investigation of the work refusal, and attempt to resolve the complaint internally. If the complaint cannot be resolved internally, it will be referred to the Ministry of Labour, which will have greater oversight and accountability when it comes to occupational health and safety enforcement. The Ministry will have the discretion and flexibility to conduct its work in the most efficient manner possible. For example, they now have the discretion to refuse to investigate refusals to work they deem to be, frivolous, trivial, or made in bad faith.

Newfoundland Workers Electrocuted

October 17th, 2014


hydrolinesAccording to the RCMP in eastern Newfoundland, a horrible worksite accident has left two men dead and two others injured in hospital. The accident happened when the four workers came in contact with electricity.

Witnesses say the four men were doing roofing work on October 6 at around 3 p.m. at the Bay Roberts town office. The workers were employed by Dun Rite Roofing, a local roofing contractor. The two workers who were killed were apparently on the ground, and moving a metal ladder into position when it apparently came into contact with – or at least close to – overhead power lines. Police are unsure of exact details. Some of the details about how it happened are still unknown. At the time, a misty rain were falling in the area.

The two workers who were killed were cousins in their mid-30s. Two other men remain in hospital, although doctors say their injuries are probably non-life-threatening. Newfoundland occupational health and safety officials are on the scene, investigating the details of the accident.


OSHA Investigating Nebraska Highway Worker’s Death

October 16th, 2014

Highway workersThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has initiated an investigation into an accident in northeast Nebraska on Tuesday, October 7 that led to the death of a highway worker.

The accident occurred at approximately 7:25 p.m., about 4 miles south of Tilden on Nebraska Highway 45. According to the Antelope County Sheriff’s Office, a 59-year-old worker, was working as a flagger for Werner Construction Co. when a vehicle traveling southbound struck him. The worker had worked for Werner Construction for about 30 days.

Several County Sheriff’s offices and the Nebraska State patrol are investigating the accident, but no arrests have been made and no charges have been filed as of yet. According to OSHA, Werner Construction has been the subject of two other investigations regarding fatalities in 2009 and 2013, and find both times.

In 2009, a worker for the company died when he was pulled into a paving machine at a worksite on U.S. Highway 275 between Norfolk and Battle Creek. For that incident, the company was cited for to OSHA violations and paid a fine of $101,000. Then, in 2013, a worker was killed when he became trapped between a semitrailer truck and a front-end loader at a worksite on Nebraska Highway 14 near Albion. For that accident, Werner Construction was cited for three OSHA violations and paid a $10,500 fine.

Another Wood Mill Explosion in BC

October 15th, 2014

Wood mill fireThere was another fire and explosion on Thursday, October 9 at a wood pellet plant in northern British Columbia that was the site of another serious explosion two years ago.

This latest explosion and fire happened at about 8 a.m. at the Burns Lake facility, which is owned and operated by Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. and left three mill workers injured. One of the injuries was serious, while the others were referred to as “minor.” Neither the company nor WorkSafeBC provided more details about the injuries.

The fire and explosion started inside a drying machine while it was shut down for maintenance. Investigators for WorkSafeBC refused to speculate as to the exact case, saying it was too early. They did note that the fact that the fire seemed to start inside a piece of equipment does indicate wood dust was not involved.

The company has been under increased scrutiny since 2012, in the wake of two fatal explosions at wood mills in the area involving combustible wood dust. The company has been fined about $49,000 recently for repeat safety violations, after being cited for combustible dust buildup several times in the past year at several of its facilities, including the Burns Lake plant.

The B.C. government issued a report in July, in which it made a number of recommendations for improving investigations, so that evidence collected would better stand up in court, thus making prosecutions easier and more likely. However, WorkSafeBC hasn’t decided to launch a full investigation into the latest fire and explosion., so it’s unknown whether or not those recommendations would come into play

SAFE Work Manitoba Takes Safety Training on the Road

October 14th, 2014

Workplace Safety EducationSAFE Work Manitoba (SWM) recently launched a mobile workplace safety training operation they call SAFE Work on Wheels, which will visit worksites throughout the province to teach workers in the construction and manufacturing industries how hazardous it is to work in an unsafe workplace.

The new campaign uses a trailer to spread the word to workers, supervisors and employers about the importance of protection in the workplace. Workers attending a SAFE Work on Wheels presentation will learn about fall protection, safe lifting, eye protection and hand safety, among other things. The program uses for very dramatic visual and interactive demonstrations to make these points.

For example, they shoot a nail gun and a pair of safety glasses and again at a pair of regular classes to show the importance of proper eye protection. They show a dummy falling from a high crane to demonstrate the value of safety harnesses. And they use a robot to demonstrate why it’s better for workers to lift something heavy using their legs rather than their back.

Manitoba’s Ministry of Labour and Immigration considers SAFE Work on Wheels to be a key component of Manitoba’s current Five-Year Plan for Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention, which is currently in its first year. The advantage of making the program mobile is that it can bring safety education to anyone, anywhere in the province. It is geared primarily to workers at construction sites and factories, however the ministry believes that it can be revised and adjusted, so that it fits into other types of jobs in sectors, if necessary.

Over the last 10 years, Manitoba’s workplace injury rate has declined by about 40 per cent, but the provincial government refuses to rest on its laurels, and won’t stop until they fulfill their mission of providing every worker with a safe workplace.

Voice-Operated Systems May Be Making Distracted Driving Worse

October 13th, 2014

Distracted DrivingMany vehicles now come with devices to allow drivers to use their smartphone’s features without taking their hands off the wheel. These devices are supposed to reduce the number of instances of distracted driving, which has become a major problem on the roadways.

Unfortunately, two recently-released studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah suggest that the opposite effect may, in fact, be happening. The studies found that many of these systems are too complex and prone to error, and often require more concentration from drivers, not less. If that’s the case, they could end up making the distracted driving problem worse.

One study examined infotainment systems that are included many vehicles from General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Toyota and Mercedes. For the second study, Apple’s Siri smartphone voice system was tested. Siri is supposed to allow a user to make a phone call, text or even post on social media without having the phone in their hand, or even looking at it.

Each system was given a grade on a scale of 1 to 5. A grade of 1.0 represented no distraction, while a 5.0 would represent complete distraction. The testing was conducted using 162 volunteers, the majority of which were university students, in three different settings: a laboratory, a driving simulator; and in actual vehicles driving through a Salt Lake City neighborhood.

Apple’s Siri received the worst rating, 4.14. As they were using Siri in a driving simulator, two volunteers “rear-ended” another vehicle. They claimed that Siri chose the wrong numbers from their contacts, and that text messages tended to be garbled. In one case, Siri called 911 by accident, and the driver had to quickly stop the call before it went through. (Apple later released a statement, in which they said that researchers didn’t use CarPlay or Siri Eyes Free, which are systems specifically designed for use in vehicles.)

Among the vehicle-based systems, GM’s MyLink system received the worst rating, a 3.7, while Toyota’s Entune system received a 1.7 rating, representing the other end of the grade spectrum. None of the systems, however, were rated less distracting than having a conversation on a hand-held cellphone.