No More Knuckle Rapping

Don Procter

February 2006

Construction companies caught violating provincial health and safety regulations in Ontario can expect more than a rap on the knuckles this year as the provincial government toughens its stand on rule breakers.

Not only are fines steeper ($50,000 and up isn’t unusual) but companies also could face criminal charges as a result of Bill C-45, an amendment to the Criminal Code in Canada last March. And the chances of a contractor getting caught are higher than ever since the Ministry of Labour hired 100 building inspectors last year and plans to bring on 70 more this year.

Leading safety consultants are quick to point out that the new tough times are the industry’s own fault. The provincial government is simply reacting to steadily surging accident rates in an industry that doesn’t seem to take safety seriously.

"A lot of people had to die and a lot of people had to get hurt in order for these rules to be made,” explains Derek Petrie, health and safety instructor for the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario.

The drywall industry as a whole has received mixed reviews on safety—the potential for falls and respiratory ailments are high in this sector. However, ISCA officials are outwardly pleased with the new enforcement measures. And for good reason: The measures stand to weed out fly-by-nighters and "cash-only” contractors who undercut fair-wage contractors; and, ISCA’s members have been steadily cutting lost-time injuries in recent years.

In fact, the association’s lost-time injury rate in 2004 was 46.1 percent lower than the average of the three previous years combined, Petrie points out. One reason for the dramatic drop is that 35 ISCA member companies have been involved in a five-year safety program set up by the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. Called the Safety Group, its prime objective is to help contractors create internal health and safety programs specific to their work.

While the lost-time injury statistics for the second year of the program, 2005, aren’t tabulated yet, Petrie says he knows that ISCA participants will see yet another drop in the lost-time injury rate.

Hired by ISCA last May, Petrie is helping to make the difference. His job encompasses health and safety training for the association’s 8,000 union members. WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), asbestos abatement, propane, fall protection and mold abatement training are part of his agenda. He also assists member companies with the development of health and safety programs specific to their field of work.

Bob Hopkins, sales manager of FHS Inc., a major construction safety consultant in Ontario, says many contractors needlessly fear Bill C-45 and the potential jail time that comes with it. By preparing a sound safety management program that measures up to the Occupational Health & Safety Act, contractors have nothing to fear.

To be in compliance with the act, every construction company should have a comprehensive health and safety policy. Important is that equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided, maintained and used properly on site. Training workers and supervisors is essential, and a copy of the OH&S Act must be posted on every construction site, says Hopkins.

To be charged under the Criminal Code, a contractor must show "wanton disregard” for the health and safety of its workers. He sees plenty of examples while on construction sites. In one case a drywall contractor received a stop work order from MOL because it had no guardrails around an unprotected stairwell. The job was re-opened once the guardrails were installed, but one of the contractor’s workers fell down an unprotected stairwell and died. It is an example where the contractor could face jail time.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.