A Call to Action: Fatalities from falls in Ontario Workplaces

September 18, 2013

As Chief Prevention Officer for the Province of Ontario, I am extremely distressed by the number of workplace fatalities related to falls that have occurred recently. Since June, nine workers have died on the job as a result of falls.
What is even more disturbing is that falls are one of the most common workplace tragedies.
These needless, intolerable tragedies must be stopped!
Each and every one of us has a duty to do everything within our power to ensure that workers return home safe at the end of every workday.
We must work together to ensure that health and safety hazards are eliminated from our workplaces and that employers, supervisors and workers comply with the law.
Preventing these injuries and fatalities requires workplace partnerships to support awareness and education programs, and appropriate enforcement.
For the past few weeks and well into the fall, the Ministry of Labour has been undertaking initiatives to prevent tragedies of this kind:
  • A falls hazards blitz in the construction sector is being conducted throughout September and October 2013.
  • This month (September), a province-wide enforcement initiative is targeting hazards of sloped roofing at low-rise residential construction sites. This initiative began August 1.
  • Also underway this month is an after-hours pilot inspection project at construction sites across Ontario. This three-month initiative started in July.
We continue to work with the Prevention Council as they provide us with strategic advice and guidance on appropriate measures to prevent falls and other tragic incidents in all workplaces.
A critical foundational step to improve workplace safety is to invest in awareness and education about rights and responsibilities, and about best practices. Earlier this year, we consulted stakeholders about proposed regulations to make health and safety awareness training mandatory for workers and supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
To help stakeholders comply with awareness training requirements, we have developed training programs and materials for both workers and supervisors; these are free, publicly available online, and in many languages http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/prevention/awareness.php.
The ministry will announce new training requirements in the coming weeks.
We are developing a Working at Heights Training Program Standard, which emphasizes hands-on experience and knowledge while also reinforcing a health and safety culture when working at heights. A standard is being developed in collaboration with our workplace partners (labour and business) this fall.
We continue to implement the key recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel report, which will help Ontario workers and employers to acquire relevant knowledge and tools to improve safety in their workplaces. See our Report Card here.
In addition, partnership initiatives are underway between the Ministry of Labour and the Health and Safety Associations. For example, the Ministry of Labour and Infrastructure Health & Safety Association are delivering a province-wide coordinated initiative focusing on residential roofing; there are two main components:
  • a targeted enforcement initiative focused on hazards at low-rise, sloped residential roofing sites being led by the Ministry of Labour, throughout August and September; and,
  • Safety awareness seminars for residential roofers offered through and Infrastructure Health & Safety Association, beginning September 18 in Sudbury and running until November 25 in London.
Information on the activities of our other Health and Safety Association partners can be found on the Ministry of Labour website.
We cannot achieve the goal of safe workplaces alone. The recent workplace fatalities are a painful reminder to us that we — each and every one of us — must take direct, personal responsibility for prevention, regardless of where we work.
As Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi noted in the Legislature on September 12, “Workplace safety is the Ministry of Labour’s number one priority, something that we work towards every single day…. There are many ways to keep workers safe at heights and prevent them from falls [including] travel-restraint systems and fall-arrest systems.” View Minister Naqvi’s full statement here.
Minister Naqvi and I personally call on every employer and every worker in this province to step up to the challenge. We’re all in this together.