The Incalculable Labour Cost


Job site estimators never calculate how many lives will be required to complete a construction project. They should probably start. In Ontario, an average of 20 construction workers die on the job every year. The number has been higher or lower across the decades but it is never zero. Generally, their names are lost in the statistics unless their departure is particularly tragic or sudden, as was the case this past week in Toronto. Names are withheld pending an investigation. By the time it’s all sorted out, everyone will have already moved on to the next grim story. Perhaps a small footnote will be found buried in the newswire months later. The business will be fined x amount of dollars. No one will go to jail. A price is eventually assigned to an injury or a corpse. Payment is never accompanied by an apology or remorse, just endless excuses and a perpetual blame game.

A week before the provincial regulations were about to change for the better regarding working at heights, two bricklayers have been killed doing just that. It’s uncertain as to whether the new rules would have saved them. Harnesses might have saved them. The gear is readily available and costs far less than a funeral, compensation, investigations, fines, children without parents, partners without spouses, sons and daughters lost, multiple lives shattered. The vice president of the construction company in this weeks tragedy told the press “I can’t tell you that what they were doing required or didn’t require (safety harnesses)”. I can tell you with certainty as a fellow worker who wears a harness on occasion that if they were wearing them, they would have had a much better shot at not dying.


A harness and a lifeline are not a complete solution. If you are wearing one correctly but there isn’t a plan in place to retrieve you from the air, you’ve got about 20 minutes give or take before your body shuts down due to something called suspension trauma. If your co-workers don’t have rescue training and the fire department isn’t within spitting distance or if they’re otherwise occupied, you’re finished. Swing stage collapse happens so frequently that youtube has countless videos of multiple incidents. The most recent Toronto accident involved a different type of scaffold called a mast climber. One of these collapsed in Raleigh, North Carolina earlier in the week, killing three. I’d call that a pattern:

The new regulations for Ontario will require that “certain workers will need to complete a working at heights training program that has been approved by the Chief Prevention Officer before they can work at heights.”  This requirement is being phased in over two years.  The greater goal is that everyone who works where fall protection is necessary will be fully versed on their options as to how to be safe. Larger trades unions have had significant programs in this area for years. Any decent employer would do the same. Countless others don’t and will be pissed off that they will need to meet some kind of bureaucratic minimum safety requirement. Anything that chomps away at profit will be whined about until a loophole is created. Company vice presidents will play dumb.

When incidents such as this occur, the initial blame is usually assigned to the worker. After the Christmas Eve swing stage collapse that killed four workers in 2009, the focus shifted quite quickly from the platform being overloaded and poorly built to the fact that several of crew had smoked marijuana. Any amount of dirt in a worker’s background will be dug up and shared widely as part of the corporate ass coverage procedure that follows such an event. People don’t usually read the final verdict months or years later. Some of us do.

The government regularly makes quiet announcements regarding fines to violators that are rarely picked up beyond local media. On March 20th past, a $90,000 fine was issued due to the death of a young worker against Central Construction, a subcontractor on a masonry job in Waterloo. You can read the judgement here, and form your own opinion but there are definite similarities to this weeks tragedy.

Young workers are officially defined as being under 25 years old. Regardless of age, someone out there has a hole in their life because safety took a backseat to profit. Mom and Dad know their name. If he was police or a soldier, hundreds would gather for a massive memorial service. Instead we have another bricklayers’ helper who has become a nameless statistic on a list that shows no signs of shrinking.

The National Day Of Mourning for workers killed on the job or by industrial illness is April 28th. On that day we name the names of the departed and their killers, who are able to avoid jail time in 100% of incidents. The streets should be filled with all of you. The body count has to stop.


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