Canadian Contractor

Alec Caldwell   

A worksite supervisor melts down!

Canadian Contractor Fire Liability U.S. Vehicle

"Get off my site! GET OFF MY SITE!!" The super cranks up the volume. He's in rabid dog attack mode. Why? Because he's already had a jobsite accident at one of his sites and the Ministry of Labour enquiry is no fun at all.

He’s having a meltdown in the middle of the building site.

This site super has discovered a tradesman’s vehicle blocking others from entering or leaving the site. The culprit finally appears, sauntering slowly towards his locked and abandoned van, seemingly unfazed, shrugging his shoulders.

At this, the site manager cranks ups the volume. Nearby workers lay down their tools to watch.

Adding fuel to the fire, this tradesman is not even wearing safety shoes or a hardhat. And at the sight of this, the decibels increase further. Finally, the super shouts, “Get off my site! GET OFF MY SITE!” And the bossman moves into rabid dog attack mode.

Finally the driver zooms away in a cloud of construction dust and suddenly it calms down. The supervisor turns around and gives me a quick wink of his eye. At least his safety message has reached everyone in the vicinity.

It’s a tough job managing a construction site these days, whether it’s a large, new homes site, like the one I just described, or a home renovation worksite.

The burden of safety, compliance and responsibility rides heavily on some site managers, but not enough of them as far as I’m concerned. Every day, I pass by many construction sites in the Toronto area and I see so much non-compliance that I just know that injuries or, yes, death await.

If you are one of these independent home builders or renovators, you need to think about creating a written procedure for safety BEFORE any accidents occur. It’s about  showing your due diligence beforehand. If not, it’s hard to prove your innocence after an event. Your job is to protect everyone: employees, self-employed subs, and, yes, the public – and anyone else who might happen to step into your workplace, including delivery people.

The site manager with the booming voice I am describing here had experienced a workplace accident that’s still under investigation. He faces fines or prosecution if found guilty of not protecting the safety of that person. It’s a huge liability, needless to say. Please make safety a number one priority in any work you are doing, no matter whether it’s a small repair job or a tract-homes project with hundreds of units.

It only takes a second and your back’s turned and someone is going to violate your written health and safety plan. (I’m assuming you have this requirement covered.) Perhaps you have a worker who isn’t tied down, or there isn’t a guardrail, working more than 10 feet above the ground. Maybe ladders are not extended the required distance above the landing area or tied down top and bottom. These are violations of current laws and you are responsible under (in Ontario, for example) the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Even if you are not on that site at the time and somewhere else, it does not matter, you are still responsible. Prosecution comes with heavy fines and the possibility of jail.

When I see a violation, I never drive by, I stop and approach supervisors. Usually, my advice is appreciated, because I’m a working at heights trainer. I know what the Ministry of Labour site inspectors are looking for. If it were them instead of me stopping, the outcome would be very different.

There are pressures on everyone to make sure construction jobs are finished on time. It’s this time pressure that unfortunately shoves safety compliance into the background. But short cuts cause accidents and no matter how much experience you have, an excuse that you or your guys were in a hurry will cut no mustard when the enquiry begins.

CARAHS is a non-profit association for self-employed home renovators and home services.

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