Lisa Gervais: It could happen to you
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | March 29, 2018|
Growing up in Sudbury, and working for the Sudbury Star newspaper, I had some experience with coroner’s inquests. These were inevitably called after another miner, or two, had been killed working for a mining company.
It was kind of in the family since my brother attended numerous inquests on behalf of the United Steelworkers of America Local 6500, representing families of killed workers.
First and foremost, coroner’s inquests are not about finding blame or establishing guilt. They are about a jury of one’s peers listening to what went wrong, determining if things could have been done differently, and making recommendations in the hopes things will be better in future.
Over the years in Sudbury, the number of inquests has waned because the number of workers killed on the job has decreased dramatically. I’d like to think it’s because coroner's inquest recommendations have been
So, last week’s inquest at the Pinestone may have been about the death of John Francis Smith, but it wasn’t about blaming Smith for not wearing safety equipment on the day he fell, nor about chastising his co-workers or employer. Smith’s family, colleagues and boss carry enough of a burden from that day - one we wouldn’t
wish upon anyone.
March 21 and 22 was about identifying what went wrong and how those wrongs can be righted in future, so that burden is lifted from people and the community in general. Here in Haliburton County, we’ve all seen workers doing the very same thing Smith did on the day he died. Up working on a roof without safety equipment. We
see workers across this county taking these sorts of risks every day because they think the safety equipment gets in the way.
As counsel to the coroner, Rebecca Griffin, pointed out last week there’s an attitude of ‘it won’t happen to me.’
She talked about complacency on work sites and resistance to using available equipment. She also cited a lack of knowledge and availability of resources.
In the end, the inquest jury made a total of eight recommendations, directed at five government ministries. After all, if the workers are not using safety equipment, it is because they are being enabled to do so?
The jury wants government to look at initiatives to improve the use and design of safety equipment, to get information to employers, stress the need for safety equipment signs, look at how compliance
is monitored, increase inspections of high risk activities, and make sure construction students are taught as
early as elementary school, right up to apprenticeships, about the need for safety equipment.
They are all good recommendations, but what about worker attitudes? That is a harder thing to change. However, Smith’s death should come as a wake-up call to the entire building industry in Haliburton County. Many tradesmen here think it won’t happen to them. We’re pretty sure that’s how Smith felt on the day he climbed that roof on Percy Lake without his safety equipment. But, it did happen to him. And, it could happen to you.
It was also brought up at the inquests that workers can call - anonymously - the Ministry of Labour’s hotline if they wish to report unsafe work practices. The number is 1-877-202-0008. In fact, anyone that sees
this stuff happening should call.
Just like those mining deaths in Sudbury, let’s aim for zero tolerance of workplace deaths and injuries on county construction sites from here on in.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.