Work Camps Evacuated for Alberta Fire

May 25th, 2016

fireLast week, as a reminder that the situation is still dangerous in the area surrounding the Alberta wildfires, workers at camps located north of Fort McMurray were moved out of the area as part of a precautionary evacuation. As high winds whipped through the area, where extremely dry conditions persist.

While the fire was still more than 20 kilometres away from the camps when the evacuation of non-essential personnel was undertaken last Monday, the extreme caution was taken because the heavy smoke continues to make it difficult to fly in some spots and because the extreme behaviour of the fire makes it very difficult to predict. As at least one expert suggested that no matter what firefighters do and how many tankers you put out in front of it, Mother Nature will continue to move the fire in the direction it wants to go.

In all, about 4,000 workers were evacuated from a dozen or so large work camps in the area, while another 500 or so were evacuated from other smaller camps scattered throughout the area.  According to witnesses, the evacuations were very orderly and there was no panic on the part of anyone. At the time, according to officials with the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the fire was moving nearly 40 metres per minute and was expected to burn six kilometres in two hours.

The entire population of Fort McMurray, a city with a population of more than 80,000 residents, spent their third week away from home last week.  While more than 2,400 structures throughout the city have been destroyed, most essential infrastructure, including the hospital, water treatment plant and the airport, remain intact.

OSHA Holds Extreme Heat Week

May 24th, 2016

OSHAThe White House and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have designated May 23-27 as Extreme Heat Week in preparation for the coming summer months. As part of the initiative, efforts will be undertaken to inform everyone, including employers and workers, about the need to prepare for extreme heat and what to do when it happens.

A lot of activities have been planned for Extreme Heat Week,  but a key event will be a White House-hosted webinar on May 26 featuring OSHA officials, with the aim of educating employers and supervisors with regard to the best way to protect workers from heat illness, including specific recommendations having to do with the need to provide workers with water, rest breaks and shade. Registration for the webinar is available online.

Just in time for this initiative, OSHA has also issued a critical update to its Heat Safety Tool smartphone app. The app, which is available as a free download for iOS and Android devices and is available in English and Spanish, gives workers a number of tools to help with the heat. Workers can use the app to calculate the heat index at their worksite, as well as to determine their level of risk for heat illness. The app also allows workers to monitor themselves and other coworkers for signs and symptoms of a possible heat illness.  OSHA also updated the iPhone app to include full-screen color alerts for all heat conditions, as well as other technical upgrades.

According to OSHA, heat sickens thousands of workers on the job every year. In 2014 alone, more than 2,600 workers became sick from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke. They note that anyone who works outside in hot weather is at risk, but that every heat illness and death is preventable. All employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers from excessive heat, however, and these activities are designed to make them aware of that fact. In addition to the smartphone app, OSHA offers a number of other resources to educate workers about heat illness.

Cone Zone 2016

May 23rd, 2016

Cone Zone 2016It’s that time of year once again, a time when drivers all over Canada have to be vigilant and be on the lookout for work crews on the road. Last week in Vancouver,  for example, WorkSafeBC, the Vancouver Police Department and the Work Zone Safety Alliance announced the launch of “Cone Zone 2016,” which means that drivers in Vancouver and throughout the province should be prepared for the increase in road maintenance this summer, which means more road workers and therefore a greater need to pay attention while driving.

Of course, the increase in road work also means there will be increased enforcement of traffic laws and Cone Zone rules throughout the city and all of British Columbia. Over the last ten years, 14 roadside workers were killed and another 226 workers were injured and missed time from work as a result of being hit by motor vehicles while they were  working in a Cone Zone.

As part of the effort to prevent motor vehicle accidents in roadside construction areas, as well as to prevent driver frustration, all drivers should always be aware of the possibility of roadside workers. They should always look for work zone signage and traffic control devices such as orange cones at any time of the day or night. That means drivers have to eliminate distractions, including electronic devices like cell phones and GPS devices. They need to stay below the posted Cone Zone speed limit and follow the directions provided by roadside workers.

Last year,  B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act Regulation was amended to include a lot more workers in the “Slow Down, Move Over” legislation, including maintenance and utility workers, land surveyors, animal control workers, garbage collectors and more.  Under the law, drivers are required to reduce their vehicle’s speed whenever they are driving near a vehicle with flashing amber, red or blue lights. If the posted speed limit is above 80 kmh, drivers are required to slow to 70kmh, but if the posted speed is less than 80 kmh, drivers must slow to 40 kmh. In all situations, drivers must increase the space between their vehicle and the work zone whenever it’s safe to do so.

Drivers in BC would be aware that the purpose of “Cone Zones” is to protect roadside workers and drivers. For more tips to help navigate work zones, go to

Three OSHA Fines in Four Years

May 20th, 2016

TrenchingFor the third time in less than four years, the Occupational and Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited and fined a Naperville, Illinois construction company for a number of violations of safety regulations with regard to trenching.

According to OSHA, they opened an investigation into the company, Kellenberger Plumbing and Underground, after they received a complaint about workers who were removing a sewer line in a trench more than eight feet deep at a construction site in Naperville on March 4. As a result of their investigation, they cited the company for one willful and one serious safety violation because they had failed to provide workers with proper cave-in protection as well as for their failure to have a competent person on site who could remove employees from a hazardous area. As a result of those violations, the company faces fines of $59,290.

The statement from OSHA announcing the citations and fines stated, “An unprotected trench can bury a worker under thousands of pounds of soil in seconds and cause severe or fatal injuries.” The statement also noted that OSHA has now cited Kellenberger Plumbing three times for violating federal trenching standards just since 2012. They said the company is well aware that every trench deeper than 5 feet must have cave-in protection and their decision to ignore federal safety standards puts their  workers in serious danger of injury or death.

If this company is attempting to cut corners, you can see it didn’t work at all. Keeping workers safe doesn’t cost nearly as much as the fines and other potential costs when an employer fails in their responsibilities.

Calgary Worker Dies in Fall

May 19th, 2016

scaffoldingAccording to Alberta Ministry of Labour (MOL), an unidentified worker for Vedas General Contracting Ltd, who was working at a construction site in southwest Calgary has died from injuries he sustained in a seven-and-a-half metre fall from a scaffold on May 3.

The accident happened at about 2 p.m. at the construction site in the neighbourhood of Parkhill. First responders arrived and he was transported to hospital, where he later died. The MOL would only confirm that the worker was in his 50s, but they did not identify him. As of right now, they are unclear as to whether or not the worker was wearing fall protection equipment at the time of the accident, but they are investigating every aspect of the incident. Soon after they arrived, they issued a stop-work order on the construction site.

While the worker was employed by Vedas, Richmond Park Developments is the prime contractor at the worksite. They are a local firm that specializes in developing and building homes in inner-city Calgary.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), it is essential that anyone working at heights of three metres or greater establish a complete fall protection program that includes supplying all workers with proper fall safety equipment. Such a program should also include proper selection, fitting and inspecting of all equipment and complete training for the workers, as well. They also stress that it is necessary for all workers to not use any safety equipment about which they have doubts and to report any potential problems to supervisors.

OSHA Issues Final Reporting Rule

May 18th, 2016

OSHAAt the end of last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its long-anticipated final rule regarding injury and illness reporting.  Under this new rule, employers will generally be required to submit certain injury and illness information electronically. Establishments with 250 or more employees must provide the most information while establishments with between 20 and 249 employees must provide a somewhat more limited range of information.

Once it is received, OSHA will post the data from these submissions on a publicly accessible website. The agency hopes that “public disclosure will encourage employers to improve workplace safety and provide valuable information to workers, job seekers, customers, researchers and the general public.”

The final rule also includes several sections that are designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The rule requires that all employers inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation and to implement reasonable reporting methods that in no way deter or discourage employees from reporting. Employers are also forbidden from either discharging or discriminating against an employee “in any manner” for reporting a work-related injury or illness. There is also an interesting new wrinkle under the new rule, in that OSHA will now be able to take action against an employer for retaliation, even if the employee did not file a retaliation complaint.

OSHA is phasing in the full reporting requirements over the next few years, The anti-retaliation rule will take effect on August 10, 2016, whereas the rest of the final rule becomes effective on January 1, 2017, with the first submissions due March 2, 2017.

Mandatory Construction Training Proposal

May 17th, 2016

mandatory construction trainingThe Ontario Ministry of Labour has proposed several amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) that, if approved, would require all employers in the construction industry to ensure that all workers complete a mandatory construction hazard awareness training program.

Specifically, the amendments would change the Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training Regulation (O. Reg. 297/13) and they would apply to all employers and workers who engage in work to which the Construction Projects Regulation (O. Reg. 213/91) applies.

Employers would have two possible ways to meet this requirement. One way would be to ensure that all workers successfully complete an approved training program that will be developed by the Ministry’s Chief Prevention Officer (CPO). The other way would involve completion of a similar training program developed by the employer, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee (JHSC), based on the learning outcomes set out in the regulation. Of course, the second approach would only be available to those employers who are required to have a JHSC.

These proposed amendments are in support of the Ministry’s Construction Health and Safety Action Plan, which is being implemented to reduce injuries at construction projects throughout the province. The hope is that the increased training will improve worker awareness of the most common hazards at construction sites and gain greater insight as to how they  may be controlled or eliminated.

Included with the proposed amendments is a two-year transition period, which should give employers ample time to ensure that existing workers have completed the training before the proposed amendments come into force.

The Ministry will be seeking public and stakeholder feedback on these proposed amendments from now until Friday, August 12, 2016. Submissions received during the consultation period will be considered in the final preparation of the proposed amendments and the final training program and provider standards.

Supervisors Fined for OHS Violations

May 16th, 2016

judgementSupervisors in workplaces throughout Ontario and Canada should be aware that they can also face charges and be fined, individually, for violations of occupational health and safety regulations. It seems as if that is happening more often lately. For example, last week, in an Ontario court,  J.S. Redpath Ltd. and two of its supervisors were found guilty and fined a total of $136,000 for an incident in which two workers were injured by falling rock at the Cochenour Mine in Red Lake.

The incident happened on August 4, 2013, when the two workers were being transported via mechanized raise climber (MRC) up a ventilation raise, which is a vertical opening underground, to the rock face where work was being performed.  Previously, the two workers had been drilling and explosives had been detonated and they were heading back to the face to resume work.

Unfortunately, they only managed to travel about 30 feet up when rocks started to fall onto the MRC, striking both workers. One worker was knocked unconscious, while the other received minor injuries. The conscious worker began to throw items out of the basket they were in as a way to attract the attention of an operator working at the bottom. Within about three hours, other mine personnel were able to rescue the two miners.

 J.S. Redpath Ltd was found guilty of violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) for failing to ensure that the worker who became unconscious had been properly trained to work on the MRC, for failing to ensure that the drilling and blasting area was examined by a supervisor during each work shift and for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to the workers for not ensuring that a supervisor or trainer didn’t observe the crew driving the MRC. For all three offenses, the company was fined a total of $125,000.

The court didn’t stop with the company, however. Philip Parrott was superintendent at the Cochenour mine, while Robert Beldock was the shift supervisor for the workers working in the MRC. Parrott was convicted, as a supervisor, for failing to take the reasonable precaution of conducting job task observations and for failing to ensure that he or another supervisor visited a ventilation raise where drilling and blasting was being carried on during each work shift. For his part, Beldock was also convicted of the latter charge as a supervisor. As a result, Parrott was fined $6,000 and Beldock was fined $5,000.

The decision was reached by Justice of the Peace Danalyn J. MacKinnon after nine days at trial and the fines were imposed in Kenora court on May 12, 2016. In addition to each of those fines, the court also imposed the mandated 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. That means the company has to pay $156,500, while Parrot will pay $7,500 and Beldock $6,250. That’s a lot to pay for not making sure your workers are safe.

Report: OSHA Doing More With Less

May 13th, 2016

hardhat bootsFor the 25th straight year, the AFL-CIO has produced its very important Death on the Job report, and some of what they report is troubling. They note that this one is special since April 28 marked the 45th anniversary of the day that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened its doors for business. And while overall worker injury and fatality rates have dropped since then, they acknowledge that there is a lot more to do.

The report notes that every year, about 5,000 workers fail to return home at the end of the workday, with tens of thousands of workers are seriously injured and thousands of others contracting diseases that lead to death. And while OSHA has a very important responsibility to prevent such incidents as fires, falls, electrocutions and crushing, they are having to do so with fewer resources. They note that the overall OSHA budget of $553 million is dwarfed by the $3 billion spent to protect fish and wildlife every year and the $8 billion spent to protect the environment.

The report notes that OSHA resources have declined over the years. Despite the fact that the number of workers has nearly doubled, the federal OSHA has 300 fewer inspectors than were in the system in 1975. In 1992, it would have taken the agency 84 years to inspect each and every workplace, which already seems inadequate. However, now, it would take them 145 years. And without inspections, there is very little oversight of working conditions or accountability on the part of employers who don’t keep workers safe, which is supposed to be the reason OSHA was created in the first place.

As the AFL-CIO report points out, OSHA needs more resources because workers have every right to a workplace that is free from hazards and keeps them as safe as possible, regardless of where they work.

Students Win Prize for New Fall Arrest System

May 12th, 2016

thumbs_upxsmallA team of engineering students from the University of Regina, Ryan Schmidt, Tanner Thomsen and Marlee Wasnik, has designed a remarkable fall restraint system that has the potential to prevent injuries for workers who are working on flatbed trailers. The design was so innovative, the group has received the top prize in the 2016 James Ham Safe Design Award Competition. They were awarded $3,500.

The annual award was presented by Minerva Canada Safety Management Education, and the students were recognized at the Partners in Prevention Conference in Mississauga, Ont., on April 27. The competition challenges Canadian engineering and technology students to integrate safety into engineering design.

Getting second prize and $1,500 was a team of engineering undergraduate students at the University of Toronto, Jeremy Wang, Ryan Williams, Shuyi Wu and Noah Yang, who designed the PowerWring, an attachment for mop wringers designed to prevent lower back and repetitive strain injuries.

Receiving an honourable mention was an engineering team from the University of Waterloo, Dena Arghastani, Mahdi Mahdi, Brant Wunderlich and Peter VanderMeer, who designed a solution to mitigate and reduce the potential risk to workers of an ammonia release from a chemical processing facility in Canada.

This award is named for and honours James Milton Ham, whose Royal Commission Report on Health and Safety what the key piece of information that led to the creation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario in 1979, which created the internal responsibility system in Ontario workplaces.