The time has come for employers and governments to join forces with unions and take concrete action to prevent any more workplace fatalities in Ontario.
That was the overriding theme of remarks made by Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher at a morning ceremony at the union’s head office on April 28 to mark Canada’s National Day of Mourning.
“When you know what should be done and it’s not done it’s extremely frustrating,” he told the audience gathered outside at a monument and memorial garden on the union property.
“Unless you take action and unless you have fines in place that are commiserate with the loss of life to families, and unless the owners that are involved that deliberately overlook safety hazards in the workplace are put in jail, then we’re going to continue to see this type of thing going on.”
Gallagher said the province talks about having a target of zero workplace deaths, which are fine-sounding words, but workplace deaths will continue to mount unless real action is taken.
“We’re going to be standing up here next year and the year after that and the year after that constantly talking about the fact that we have a zero target for deaths in the workplace.”
He said much more needs to be done than hanging flags at half-mast.
“If you kill a worker in the workplace due to negligence you should go to jail. The people that are involved in that negligence, that deliberately cut costs and overlook putting properly trained people or taking measures to keep people from unsafe situations or put pressure on workers to do work that is not safe should be punished with severe fines and also they should go to prison.”
Gallagher noted there were 16 construction deaths in Ontario in 2015 and already this year one worker was killed in Ottawa when ice from an excavation wall fell on him.
Workers had complained several times about ice buildup on the worksite, he said, yet the accident still happened.
“In my way of thinking there’s not a lot of work involved to take that ice away before subjecting workers to go down into an excavation and go to work with a large amount of ice hanging over top of them.”
Gallagher said no parent should be sending a son or daughter off to work, as if they were sending them off to war, and be forced to worry every minute if they will return at the end of the day.
“The time for action is now and we have to tell the powers that be, the politicians, the people that are in management, and the owners of companies, that they have to invest in their people and they have to protect their people.”
Gallagher called upon Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to enact and enforce laws to ensure that the people who are responsible for killing workers in the workplace pay the price behind bars.
“It’s not until we do that that we will actually have a safe workplace and can feel good about sending our children and our loved ones out to work, knowing that they will return at the end of the day.”
Gallagher said there is no reason in this day and age to have any workplace deaths.
He noted that Marc Normand, a 50-year-old Local 793 welder who was killed Nov. 2, 2015 when a pipe rolled off a loader and crushed him, died because an inexperienced worker who didn’t receive any training ended up operating a machine far superior to his skills without a journeyperson guiding him.
“I call upon all of our employers out there to join with us and support us in making sure that every worker that goes out there has the most qualifications that they can possibly have.”
Gallagher said the union has invested more than $100 million in training and wants to get compulsory certification for more heavy equipment trades to ensure that everybody operating machines is qualified.
He said the Operating Engineers will never stop trying to make worksites safer.
“We will work relentlessly to hold the feet to the fire of the powers that be to make sure we do not have to add any more names to this monument that’s here behind me. Let’s make the names that we added the last names that we added.”
Gallagher expressed his support for Bill 180 which has passed second reading in the Legislature and been referred to a standing committee. The Bill would raise awareness of workplace safety by seeing Canadian and Ontario flags at all government and public sector buildings across the province lowered to half-mast on April 28 each year.
“I truly feel that all of the elementary schools and the high schools, and the universities and the colleges and the trade schools, all of them should have their flags at half-mast, and more than that they should have a moment of silence and remember the workers who’ve died. We will be lobbying the government to make sure that recognition takes place for workers who have died on the job, just as it does for veterans on Remembrance Day.”
Gallagher noted it was fitting to hold the ceremony at the monument at head office as it was built to honour Local 793 members who’ve died as a result of a construction site accident or occupational illnesses.
Three names were added to the monument this year. They include:
- John Hunt who died Sept. 2, 1980 at the age of 36. He was killed when he went into a building to get out of bad weather and the block structure collapsed.
- Jamie Drew Davis who died July 12, 2015 at the age of 43. He died from complications from back surgery from an injury he suffered on the job.
- Marc Normand who died Nov. 2, 2015 at the age of 50. He was killed at a road construction project in Unionville when a pipe rolled off a loader and crushed him.
Video presentation of the Day of Mourning ceremony held at IUOE Local 793 head office