Hispanic Workers Most Vulnerable to Construction Risks

May 22nd, 2015

constructionEveryone knows that construction jobs are among the most dangerous jobs out there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 12 construction workers are killed on the job every single day. However, according to a new report released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), some groups of workers are at greater risk than others.

According to the report, construction workers who are young, Hispanic and work for small firms face a higher risk of injury and death than any other demographic group in the construction industry.

Most troubling is that the problem starts with what is recognized as poor safety training. Young and inexperienced new Hispanic workers, especially immigrants who don’t yet speak English, tend to be unfamiliar with the inherent risks of the job and are too often not aware of standard safety procedures. To make matters worse, smaller contractors often don’t have the resources available to provide adequate safety training and equipment.

Officials with the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) affirm that training quality varies by company, and often involves simply pairing a new worker with an older one and hoping for the best. Often, that’s inadequate.

While the overall number of workplace fatalities in the construction industry was down in 2013, Hispanics were the only ethnic group to see an increase that year. OSHA notes that employers have a tendency to blame most injuries on workers, while it’s the employer’s responsibility to prevent injuries to workers.

At the beginning of this year, OSHA changed the way businesses report injuries or fatalities; they now require employers to report every fatality, hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye, and to do so within a shorter period of time. They are also conducting their second annual National Fall Safety Stand-Down campaign. They hope to use these measures to encourage better hazard prevention and to improve training for everyone, including Hispanics, and keep everyone safe.

Manitoba Selects Workplace Safety Grant Awards

May 21st, 2015

moneyAs part of their Research and Workplace Innovation Program (RWIP), the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba (WCB) has announced eight grant recipients to demonstrate their support of projects designed to keep Manitoba workers safe and to help them recover from workplace injuries.

The initiatives that received grants this year run the gamut, from projects that hope to prevent worker injury, to better health and safety training for workers who are new to the province, to a number of other scientific research projects that could make workers in the province safer.

 Every year, the RWIP makes $1 million available to fund high-quality scientific research and workplace-based innovation programs that they hope will improve workplace health and safety. Since 2009, they have supplied funding for 47 workplace prevention, education and training initiatives, and the initiative has proved to be so successful that last year the WCB added a new funding stream to support occupational health and safety education and training projects.

The WCB sees the RWIP as an indication of their commitment to making sure Manitoba workplaces become healthier and safer far into the future. By funding these types of research programs, everyone will know more about workplace injuries, illness and diseases, which means they will be better able to train workers and give them the tools to perform their jobs safely.

OSHA: Proper Procedures Could Have Saved Four Lives

May 20th, 2015

Chemical plantAccording to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), if DuPont had the proper safety procedures in place at the time of a terrible incident last November at their plant in LaPorte, Texas, the employees who perished would be alive today.

The incident they referred to killed four workers, including two brothers, Robert and Gilbert Tisnado, as well as Crystal Rae Wise and Wade Baker, whose experience with the company ranged from eight months to 40 years. It happened when a valve failed and released copious amounts of methyl mercaptan, a colorless gas with a strong odor that’s used in jet fuel, plastics and pesticides.

A subsequent OSHA investigation revealed that Wise was consumed by methyl mercaptan after she opened a drain on a gas vent line. Two of her coworkers, who were working nearby, tried to save her, but they were also consumed by the gas, and a fourth went in to save the other three, but also died from exposure to the gas.

As OSHA saw it, if DuPont had properly assessed the dangers involved and/or had properly trained the workers on what they should do if the ventilation system stopped working, they may have survived. Instead, OSHA cited them for 11 safety violations and fined them $99,000 for 11 violations, including repeat and serious violations.

The repeat violation DuPont faces was for not properly training employees for a number safety procedures, including use of the building’s ventilation system, for which the company was cited in July 2010. According to Texas state records, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has cited the LaPorte plant for violating state occupational and environmental safety laws two dozen time in just the past five years.

Supermarket Fined $140k in Worker Forklift Fatality

May 19th, 2015

ForkliftA tragic and grisly forklift accident that occurred on October 5, 2013 has cost 1039145 Ontario Inc., operating as Tuong Phat Supermarket in North York, $140,000, precisely because they did little to nothing to keep a worker safe.

The day of the accident, a worker who had been hired just the day before was operating a forklift truck at the market on Finch Avenue West in Toronto. A supervisor had assigned the worker with using a “stacker,” or walk-behind lift truck, to stack fruit in the fruit department, which included moving the fruit from the basement to the main floor through a rectangular opening in the loading area of the main floor. Unfortunately, the worker had not been trained to use the stacker.

According to video footage, the worker would load products onto the forks of the stacker, manually position it into place, and then raising or lowering the forks to move products through the opening. He did this all day, until one time, when the stacker forks were raised through the opening before the stacker tipped over backwards onto the worker, crushing him. He died later that day.

To make matters worse, Tuong Phat Supermarket failed to notify the Ministry of Labour of the workplace injury; the Ministry only found out when the Toronto Police Service notified them the next day.

The Ministry of Labour investigated the accident, and they concluded that one reason the lift truck tipped over was because it was not equipped with the specified battery weight, which would have acted as a counterbalance to the load’s weight and would have made the forklift more stable. They also noted that the lighting at the accident location was well below recommended levels for warehousing tasks, and that the insufficient lighting may have adversely affected the ability of the worker to see the fork tips. It was also determined that the worker had no occupational safety training, nor had he received training on properly using the forklift.

After the company pleaded guilty to failing as an employer to ensure that the stacker was only operated by a competent person, they were hit with a $140,000 fine by Justice of the Peace Mindy Avrich-Skapinker in Old City Hall court in Toronto.  In addition, the required 25 per cent victim fine surcharge for the Provincial Offences Act was added, bringing the total amount Tuong Phat Supermarket will have to make to recover for not training their worker and not making sure the machine he was using was maintained and the workplace was safely lit to $175,000. How much would it have cost to train him and make sure his equipment worked?

Crane Company, Owner Fined for Obstructing a MoL Investigation

May 18th, 2015


After a fire at a Kingston, Ontario construction site led to a crane operator being rescued via military helicopter on December 17, 2013, the worker’s employer and the owner of the company have been found guilty and will now have to pay a significant fine for attempting to obstruct the investigation.

The incident happened at the site of a residential construction project on Princess Street in Kingston. The crane operator was working for Waterdown-based A & A Crane Inc., which is owned by Aram Malek of Hamilton.

When the construction project caught fire, the crane operator was forced to leave the cab in order to escape the flames and scoot out onto the 65-metre-long crane boom as it hung approximately 100 metres above the ground below. Canadian Forces Base Trenton sent a military helicopter to the scene, and they were able to conduct an aerial rescue of the crane operator, who was subsequently hospitalized with serious burns.

A couple days after the rescue, an inspector with the Ontario Ministry of Labour contacted Malek to request records, including proof of employment, a copy of the contract between A & A Crane and the constructor and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) forms. The company provided some of the information, but not everything. Another inspector tried to arrange an interview with Malek but couldn’t reach him by telephone or at home. At trial, the inspectors testified that the lack of response from Malek made it impossible to continue their investigation of A & A Crane, because the information they wanted was necessary.

After the trial, Justice of the Peace Paul A. Welsh found Malek guilty of two counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including knowingly furnishing an inspector with false information or neglecting or refusing to furnish information required by an inspector, and for his failure to furnish all necessary means in the person’s power to facilitate any entry, search, inspection, investigation, examination, testing or inquiry by an inspector.

For those two charges, Malek was personally fined a total of $19,000. That fine was actually more than twice the fine assessed to the company for its failure to comply with a requirement of an inspector. For that charge, A & A Crane was fined $8,000. In addition to the fines, the court also added the required 25 per cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act.

If nothing else, this case should illustrate the fact that stalling or refusing to comply with a Ministry of Labour  or interfering with a Ministry investigation will cost you a lot more in the long run. Once they get everything they need, they could still fine the company a lot more, so stalling doesn’t work.

Are You Ready for OSHA Confined Spaces Construction Standard?

May 15th, 2015

Manhole coverThe U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has finally issued its final rule regarding construction work in confined spaces, which will take effect on August 3, 2015, and will replace OSHA’s only rule on confined spaces, which only requires basic training, with a more comprehensive standard that provides construction workers with protections similar to other workers, such as those in manufacturing and general industry.

The new construction standard includes a number of new requirements , including the need to properly assess worksites and identify all confined spaces, as well as to continually monitor them for hazards, including atmospheric and engulfment hazards and eliminate or control them. Employers and supervisors must also develop and maintain a written confined space program at every single worksite at which workers will enter permit-required confined spaces, and they must train workers as to the location and hazards of permit-required confined spaces and ensure that any unauthorized workers are not allowed to enter those spaces.

The new standards will be applicable to all employers with workers engaging in construction activities at worksites with one or more confined spaces, which can include tanks, pits, manholes, boilers, crawlspaces, ducts and bins, although any confined space is treated the same.

While there are similarities with the standards for general industry, the new standard does differ somewhat, because it is tailored to the construction industry, especially with regard to requirements that that multiple employers at a worksite, including contractors and subcontractors, coordinate among each other and share safety information.

August 3 isn’t really that far away, so everyone involved should familiarize themselves with the new standard at OSHA’s Confined Spaces in Construction website. It’s a great idea to be ready before it’s too late.

Ministry of Labour Funds Innovative OHS Projects

May 14th, 2015

canadian moneyThe Ontario Ministry of Labour has announced the first grants to be awarded under its Occupational Health and Safety Prevention and Innovation Program. Under that program, the province hopes to fund programs and initiatives designed to prevent workplace injuries and improve overall occupational health and safety in provincial workplaces.

The new program is aligned with Ontario’s Integrated Health and Safety Strategy, and the funding is directed at workplaces with a significant need to improve health and safety outcomes. Since the program launched in September 2014 with an open call for initiatives, the Ministry received 85 applications for funding.  After a thorough three-step review process, they chose 12 applicants to receive support for innovative OH&S initiatives. Among them include:

  • Minerva Canada Safety Management Education Inc. received funding for their project, which hopes to encourage more colleges and universities to incorporate health and safety education into their core curricula.
  • Our Youth at Work Association received a grant for their Safety Momentum for Vulnerable Workers initiative, which will use seminars and presentations to ensure that young workers better understand the importance of occupational health and safety.
  • The Thunder Bay Economic Development Commission received funding for a project to help employers in the Thunder Bay area to better understand their role they play in health and safety and to help them create and implement occupational health and safety programs.
  • Career Education Council Guelph Wellington Dufferin were awarded funding for an awareness and training program to create awareness of the importance of occupational health and safety in the workplace among youth, teachers, parents and families, including the development of a new safety app for students to use on their phones.
  • The Association for Workplace Tragedy Family Support received funding for their Threads of Life project, which provides support to families dealing with a life altering workplace injury, disease or fatality.
  • Community Living Prince Edward received funding to support a program to provide Musculoskeletal Disorder Injury Prevention Training for Developmental Service Workers, which will deal with the lifting hazardfor aging, part-time and new employees.
  • Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety received funding for an inquiry service, in which anyone in Ontario will have the ability to ask questions and receive accurate and reliable information regarding occupational health and safety.

Capitol Dome Workers Stand Down for Safety

May 13th, 2015

Capitol Dome RestorationLast Wednesday, May 6, the construction workers in Washington, D.C. who climb the Capitol Dome each day to work on its restoration took part in the second annual National Safety Stand-Down, organized by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and gathered together to learn about safety procedures and fall prevention.

Several dozen workers wearing neon vests and hard hats listened to a number of technical experts and government officials remind them that the massive project presents a number of unique challenges, and that it is vitally important that all of them remember how their loved ones would be affected if they were injured on the job. There were also reminders that employers have a responsibility for implementing proper safety procedures and training.

The general contractor for the Capitol Dome restoration, Turner Construction, took the time to note that its safety standards go well above OSHA’s minimum requirements, including the use of scaffolding with a top rail, a mid-rail and a toe rail, so as to protect workers. To allow workers to move around safely, the company uses steps rather than ladder, and one-person lifts wherever possible. If they are more than six feet above ground, workers are required to either be contained by rails and lifts, where available, and where they are not available, they must tied to a harness.

One major challenge with the restoration project, which it hopes to complete by Inauguration Day in January 2017, is that resting points on the Dome are so sensitive that it’s only possible to have a few people on the scaffolding at any one time, so that access is also very limited.

The purpose of the Stand-Down is obvious when statistics are considered. According to OSHA, in 2013, 291 construction workers died from falls, and that number represents more than 30 percent of  all construction deaths. This year, OSHA hopes to host at least 20,000 stand-downs and reach 3 million workers, because they believe awareness goes a long way toward prevention.

Alberta Construction Caught in Trench Collapse

May 12th, 2015

TrenchingOfficials with Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour are conducting an investigation of an accident in Edmonton last week, in which a construction worker became buried under several metres of clay and dirt when a sewer trench collapsed. That worker did not survive.

The accident happened as the 55-year-old worker was working with a backhoe operator to dig a trench at a city construction site a little before 5:00 p.m., according to reports. Suddenly, the trench collapsed onto him, and it took emergency services until about 2:30 a.m. the next morning to extricate his lifeless body from beneath the dirt.

The still-unidentified worker had been hired to work at the site through the Bissell Centre Temporary Labour Agency, an Edmonton employment agency.

This was actually the second burial-type accident among workers on Edmonton city projects in the space of about a week. Six days earlier, a 37-year-old worker for the City ended up hospitalized in critical condition after the dump truck he was using to clean city streets ended up spilling sand and gravel and other debris onto him as he tried to unload at a city facility. Coincidentally, the victim of that accident hung on for a while, and had just died the same day this latest accident occurred.

Making Atlantic Canada’s Construction Industry Safer

May 11th, 2015

Training Equivalency AgreementIn an attempt to make the industry more competitive in their region and to aid in making workers more mobile and flexible, a number of construction safety experts and associations in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have worked to create a Training Equivalency Agreement.

There are two parts to the agreement. The main part is to make training standards universal throughout all three provinces. What that means is, a worker trained in New Brunswick won’t have to be retrained to be able to take a job in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador and vice-versa. That has been a problem for workers and employers in all three provinces for years, and setting up equivalent training everywhere will allow workers to go where the work is and it will save employers a lot of money and time in the long run.

The second part of the agreement will require the development of occupational health and safety training that will take into account the differences between the provinces, and make sure everyone meets or exceeds provincial training standards for all three.

The feeling is that with the Training Equivalency Agreement in place, not only will workers have more opportunities for employment, but it will allow companies to expend and create more of a regional presence, not blocked by the fact that their workers lack the safety training necessary for the other Atlantic Canada provinces.