Labour unions, employers and various levels of government must work harder to make sure that safety is the top priority on construction sites and in workplaces across Ontario.
That was one of the messages conveyed by Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher at a ceremony at the union’s head office April 28 to mark Canada’s National Day of Mourning.
“We all have to redouble our efforts and make sure that we don’t have to add any more names to the monument behind us,” he said referring to the structure erected at head office with names of members who’ve died in jobsite accidents or due to occupational illness.
“There is no shortcut that should ever be taken that puts at risk a single worker. We don’t want to add any more names here or to any of the rolls in the province of Ontario.”
About 80 people attended the morning, hour-long ceremony, including some family members of Local 793 operators whose names are etched on the monument. During the event, the names of operators on the monument were read out, followed by a minute’s silence.
One new name was engraved on the monument this year – that of Claude Joly, a crane operator and 45-year member who died from mesothelioma on Dec. 15, 2016 at the age of 85. There are now 40 names engraved on the monument.
Gallagher said safety is a priority for the union and Local 793 is prepared to spend as much as it takes to ensure its new recruits are properly trained and receive appropriate heath and safety instruction because a traumatic injury can take a terrible toll on a worker’s family.
“Us as heavy equipment operators know how important training is,” he said. “We invest a lot of our local members’ money into the most advanced training that’s available and we know that prevention is so important.
“If we can eliminate operator error that eliminates the vast majority of accidents out in the field.”
Gallagher noted that when training apprentices, the union advises them to always put safety first.
“We want them to bring professionalism to everything that they do, and to do it with an eye to safety and doing it the very best possible way they can because the responsibility is not just to themselves and their own family, but also to the workers that they work with and the general public.”
Gallagher said it’s disconcerting that a national survey showed more than 40 per cent of employers do not share their workplace health and safety policies with new workers when they start on a job. The survey was conducted for Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau.
The statistics, he said, shows there’s more to be done on the employer’s side.
“We have to put into practice what is in our policies,” he said, “and we have to make sure of that, especially with young people.”
Gallagher told the ceremony that it’s also vital that more of the Operating Engineer trades become compulsory, rather than voluntary.
“We need more of the work out there that is dangerous to the public, and dangerous to the workers on the jobsites, to become what we call restricted trades.”
He said Local 793 is seeking compulsory status for concrete pump operators but other heavy equipment trades should also become restricted trades.
“Somebody working on an excavator, for example, and working on a jobsite should be well-trained and know what they’re doing.”
Local 793 president Joe Redshaw emceed the ceremony and told those attending that a survey done for the Ontario Construction Secretariat showed that the unionized construction industry is 23 per cent safer than the non-union sector.
The study examined worker compensation data from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for close to 45,000 construction firms and 1.5 million construction workers, reporting for the period from 2006 to 2012.
“So what we’ve been preaching for years is true,” said Redshaw.
Researchers, he said, are now digging deeper to find out why the unionized sector is safer.
“We on the inside have our own opinion,” Redshaw said. “It’s our commitment to training, the health and safety atmosphere in the unionized sector, and the apprenticeship programs that we all invest heavily into to train our members on how to operate the equipment.
“The secondary factor is that workers know they have the right to refuse to work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In the non-union sector they are a little bit afraid to go out for fear of their jobs, whereas a union worker knows if he goes out and complains about issues on the project he has the backing of his union.”
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton and Oakville North-Burlington MP Pam Damoff also spoke at the ceremony.
Burton said he and leaders of surrounding communities have made safety a high priority and he is proud that millions of hours have been worked at Oakville Hydro without serious incident.
Damoff, meanwhile, said it’s important for workers to be able to go to work and return home safely to their families.
“Let’s not just today, but every day, make a commitment to having a safe workplace and ensuring everyone is educated on their rights and responsibilities.”