Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Residential construction blitzed again

Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Thomas Lukaszuk has announced an(other) OHS inspection blitz of residential construction.
Lukaszuk is putting residential construction, and the framing and roofing industry on notice because they will be targeted for inspection this year. 
“Residential construction will be ramping up their work and we will be performing focused inspection on that industry in particular,” he said. 
“If the ski resorts can do it, I know that they can do it as well. 
“At the end of the day this is not about lowering statistics, this is about mom and dads coming home at the end of a work day, intact, without injuries and without fatalities.”
There is certainly something to targeting residential construction. I’ve taken a quick spin around the neighbourhood on my bike at lunch the last few days and observed five residential construction sites.

Here are a couple of shots from one site, a few days apart. In the first one, the guy is working on the edge of the roof with a 11- or 12-foot fall. He's not wearing any fall protection (the yellow cord is for compressed air to the nail gun) or eye protection. He is using a nail gun to secure joists directly overtop of other workers (they walk rout of the shot before my camera warmed up) who are not even wearing hard hats (there isn’t a hard hat on site or visible in the trucks).

In this second picture, we have guys hanging over the edge of the second storey securing some wrap. A minute before I snapped this shot, one guy had both hands and half his torso out over the edge working. No fall protection—I have yet to see a harness or a rope. Today they are putting up the roof trusses so we’ll see how that goes.

This is pretty typical. Only one of the five sites had any kind of precautions (it was run by a big contractor) like PPE, spotters, controlled access, and decent signage. The rest were awful. The only PPE visible on most sites were steel-toed boots, and even then a couple of guys were in sneakers. 

This isn’t surprising. Those with medium-ishly long memories will note that Lukaszuk targeted the residential construction industry in 2011. Even knowing inspectors were coming, the 387 employers inspected has a 55% violation rate (most places had several violations), including a quarter which had violations serious enough to warrant stop-work or stop-use orders. The lack of fall protection was the biggest issue. Since employers knew inspectors were coming, how compliant do you imagine a worksite is when inspectors aren’t coming around?

I’m all for inspections. But my growing sense is that inspection blitzes are bread and circuses. They create good media stories (“we’re kicking unsafe ass, boys”) while distracting from commonplace and widespread non-compliance. This reflects that (1) there is virtually no chance of getting caught violating OHS provisions and (2) if you do get caught there are no penalties.

-- Bob Barnetson

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