Construction has begun on a memorial garden and pavilion at Local 793’s head office in Oakville.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 9 to mark the beginning of construction.
The structure is being built to honour members of the local who have died as a result of construction site accidents or due to an occupational illness.
More than 150 dignitaries, union staff, business reps and officers, health and safety officials, building trades representatives and construction employers attended the morning event, along with family of four Local 793 operators who died under such circumstances.
Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher gave opening remarks at the ceremony. He spoke about the significance of the garden and pavilion and also the importance of industry partners and government agencies working together to make construction sites safer.
He noted that in Ontario 225 workers were killed on construction sites between 2003 and 2013, and that in 2013 alone 17 construction workers were killed.
“I really think the time has come for the construction industry as a whole to come together and put some mettle behind the words,” he said. “Nobody should go to work and not come home.”
He said Local 793 hopes to work with health and safety agencies and its partners in government to re-double efforts to make sure such tragic accidents don’t ever happen again.
Gallagher told the audience that the groundbreaking was important because the garden and pavilion will be a fitting tribute to honour those who have died in construction accidents.
“We are proud to be one of the few trades that has constructed a memorial garden like this,” he said, noting that the goal of the local is to never add another name going forward.
Gallagher provided an overview of the garden and pavilion, noting it was designed by Hamilton-area artist Patrick Bermingham, who’s been showing his sculptures professionally since he was 14.
Bermingham’s design was chosen from among four finalists that were presented first to the union’s executive board and then to members at the general membership meeting in March.
“We are especially pleased to have Patrick design the monument and I know he is especially excited about the project,” Gallagher said.
The pavilion will consist of three outer arches and two inner arches, creating a quiet place for reflection for Local 793 members, and the families of those who have died. The two inner arches represent the union’s supporting role in the construction of infrastructure in Ontario and the three outer arches were inspired by the Burlington Skyway bridge.
Names of the deceased members will be engraved on the arches. The structure should be completed by September.
Gallagher noted that Dufferin Construction is contributing $40,000 to help with the costs of building the pavilion foundation, while Bermingham Construction is donating $25,000 and the Crane Rental Association of Ontario is giving $10,000 for construction costs.
A number of dignitaries spoke at the event.
Patrick Bermingham told the audience that he shares the union’s desire to have a perpetually safe workplace.
He thanked the members of Local 793 for commissioning him to design the pavilion, noting it’s a “great honour.”
Bermingham said he has always looked up to Operating Engineers, as “they are the men and women who build this country.”
Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, who is MPP for Oakville, said Local 793 is a quality organization that has had such a profound impact on the community of Oakville.
He said the union is always trying to get to the magic number of zero injuries but, sadly, the number of construction deaths has remained stubbornly high.
He noted that industry stakeholders must work together to ensure the fatalities are stopped.
“We owe it to the families who’ve come out here today to re-double our efforts,” he said, referring to family members of the deceased operators who attended the ceremony.
Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), said stakeholders must focus their efforts on health and safety “every minute of every day” in an effort to get the number of injuries to zero.
She said the garden and pavilion will have an impact on elevating the importance of health and safety.
“It’s going to have a lasting impact on so many people,” she said.
Witmer congratulated the union on its commitment to making worksites safer and noted that business manager Gallagher, who is on the WSIB, has a passion for health and safety and she welcomes his input.
Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, congratulated the officers of Local 793 for their foresight in building the pavilion.
“This is really a step forward in prevention,” he said.
Dillon noted it is possible to achieve zero injuries because inquests into the deaths of construction workers have all concluded that the tragedies could have been prevented if better health and safety practices were in effect.
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton said workers have a right to be safe and refuse work when they feel their lives are in danger.
He said Oakville is committed to safer workplaces, and 800,000 square feet of building space was erected last year in the town with no injuries.
“We can have a safe workplace,” he said.