Canadian Contractor

Alec Caldwell on the Toronto house collapse tragedy

Alec Caldwell has been cautioning renovation contractors of the risks of such a massive tragedy, through his work with CARAHS, for the past two years on this site

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September 10, 2014 by Alec Caldwell

Editor’s Note: Alec Caldwell of CARAHS has crusaded long and hard for safety practices in home renovations industry to reach the same level of serious concern as typically seen on big commercial construction jobs. The renovation site “pancake collapse” house-implosion disaster yesterday in North Toronto underlines Alec’s message in a terrible way.

This 19 year old man dies on the scene yesterday in the Toronto house collapse – and he never will never go home to his family after work, ever again. All his future dreams, adventures and expectations have gone. What a huge loss to his family, as they begin to start on their long road home from this recovery. Never a full recovery for many.

His workmates are now in hospital fighting for survival, with serious lower body injuries, apparently. Three permits were obtained for the renovation in the Bedford Park area of North Toronto, one of them reportedly to strengthen the basement foundation.

The disaster is now under an Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) investigation – which will take time, believe me.

When the MOL investigates, their job is simple: to find fault and prosecute. Those found in non-compliance of the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act face fines and jail terms as the courts decide. It’s probably not top of anyone’s mind this morning, while we all mourn this young lad who died, and think of his loved ones, but I certainly hope that the general contractor (unnamed so far) had documented policies and procedures in force that included a policy for emergency rescue. So few renovation contractors have thought of this. This could be the contractor’s only defense in court, although it’s too early to identify any blame for this project whatsoever. For more on renovation site safety policies and procedures, read the little black box

I understand the second worker is very seriously injured. It will take time and he could well be left with a lifetime disability (again, we don’t know, and sincerely wish him and his family a full recovery), well after WSIB claim payments stop paying him. So many of the issues I have talked about in this column for two years come to the fore after this tragedy.

By providing education and training, CARAHS reduces your risk of fines, job site closures and prosecution under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Passion – Commitment – CARAHS – Toll free 1 866-366 2930

CARAHS has over 150 online Health & Safety e-courses

Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell is the Founder of CARAHS, a Health & Safety Organization. We are approved providers by the Ministry of Labour (Ontario) to teach Working at Heights Training (Pro#34609) Visit the Ministry of Labour's web site to view our listing
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2 Comments » for Alec Caldwell on the Toronto house collapse tragedy
  1. • In Reply made at CARAHS members Laura Pollard said:
    Designer/Project Manager at Bravehart Building

    Alec, your crusading for safety practices and prevention practices is admirable.
    The industry needs you and CARAHS for this and more.

    However, it is our view, that there is more to this unfortunate, preventable event than meets the eye.

    It is this: Consumers cannot tell the difference between General Contractors who say they can do a certain scope of project vs GCs who indeed have the training, the team, the processes and the Construction techniques in place to take on what we refer to as ‘Major Structural Project’ renovations.

    A small group of GCs in Toronto have been having ‘backroom meetings’ on this issue; engaging in discussions for over 2 years now- we are the GCs who undertake ‘major, structural projects’; the type of projects which require more than men and machinery (if you go to the contractor website in the North Toronto disaster, the verbiage talks about having machines available for jobs).

    Our group of concerned GCs has established a founding association – Consumer-General Contractor Connection is dedicated to informing consumers that they require an educated, careful, considerate trained team of industry professionals dedicated to Major Structural renovation projects. And, more importantly, that the team undertake specific pre-Construction tasks and testing to determine the Site Conditions, before proceeding to the Design or Bid stage (let alone the Construction stage!!!!)

    Our goal is to establish a link to the consumer community (; to establish Best Practices for the larger structural renovations, and, in the future, to establish a professional certification program and designation for ‘Structural Renovations’.

    We believe governments, industry associations dedicated to Safety and other bodies can only go so far. It is up to we GCs who know the difference between a ‘somewhat cosmetic’ renovation and a ‘major structural renovation’ to speak up and create awareness of the ‘divide’ that exists for consumers today. So consumers can make the educated choice, the right choice for safety of their home and the workers on the site.

    For instance, in our Design/Build firm, we retain a GC who has civil engineering education and experience, and who has built towers and bridges, as our Construction Manager.

    We use the services of professional, certified soils engineers, structural engineers, and an excavation and concrete crew with experience in foundation work specifically – both old and new – and ‘tie-in’ foundational work.

    Last night, the CBC News interviewed our firm and played a segment, which I have been too busy to see yet. The link is at CBC/Toronto. Click on video and last night’s show will appear, with the segment. (Still have to watch the information that they were able to capture and impart in the 2 minutes devoted to this event in the newscast).

    Our goal was to impart to consumers that the TV hosts who talk about getting 3 quotes are misleading the market place.

    Our pre-construction test wells, geo-technical engineering reports, structural engineering reports and site visits by the team to confer in advance add both time and money to our bid process. So we have competed in many underpinning projects and not won them on price alone!!!!

    We need to create more ‘noise’ around how specific major structural projects are planned, vs who has the cheapest quote. Or we are all misleading consumers and risk the loss of young lives – and consumer’s homes – going forward.

  2. Hi Laura,

    Like CARAHS you to are a crusader for right in this business and on what you say in your post.

    It did already cross my mind why the homeowner chose this contractor over others. Was it about price. I did not want to talk this way at this time, but this could be a huge factor why this young individual just lost his life.

    Now you have asked the question and opened it up. Hopefully other quality people like yourself will track down these questions down and they’ll be a fix down the line, to save other lives. CARAHS is willing to assist.
    Thank you,