REGINA, SK: In September 2013, Kurt Ferguson was only 22 years old the day his construction career ended. He was crossing the floor of the house he and his crew were building in Moose Jaw when he stepped into an unguarded hole cut for stairs and plummeted into the unfinished basement.
A piece of rebar pierced him under the right arm, shattering two vertebrae, and injuring his spine before exiting beside his left ear. “I tried shouting but I couldn’t talk or move,” Kurt remembers. “No sound came out and I was trapped.” He lay impaled by the 15 mm piece of steel rebar from his right armpit to behind his left ear, waiting to be discovered.
Incidents like Kurt’s are deadly and the risk is frequent. In Occupational Health and Safety division (OHS) inspections conducted on residential construction sites in Saskatchewan in 2015, there was only 41 per cent compliance with covering openings like the one Kurt fell into – openings into which a worker could step or fall. There was only 20 per cent compliance with providing barriers for open shafts.
WorkSafe Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) are reminding home builders and renovators to cover unguarded openings on worksites and to wear proper equipment.
According to the 2015 Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) Annual Report, Construction trades helpers and labourers had the fourth-highest number of total claims accepted in the province (775 claims).
OHS will be out inspecting residential construction sites throughout the summer and fall. During two residential construction workplace inspection campaigns in 2015, visiting 161 residential construction sites, OHS found that 41 per cent of the workplaces were using fall protection as required. Fewer than 50 per cent of the workers on the sites inspected were wearing protective headgear.
The OHS Division and the WCB through their partnership in WorkSafe Saskatchewan and the SCSA have identified the most dangerous and pressing compliance issues in residential construction:
· covering openings
· wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
· using and wearing fall protection equipment.
“Safety needs to be at the top of our minds at all times,” said Ray Anthony, Executive Director, Occupational Health and Safety Division. “Employers and supervisors have the highest degree of responsibility for safety on the workplace. It is everyone’s responsibility to comply with the law and safe work practices.”
Shelly McFadden, Director of Prevention at the WCB, says non-compliance with the three areas OHS is inspecting leads to the most common and costly injuries. “Workers fall through uncovered openings or drop tools or fall from scaffolding with unguarded sides. They are injured when they are allowed to work on sites without proper hardhats or footwear. There is non-compliance with training and wearing fall arrest. OHS is out inspecting for all of these things again. Our goal is that supervisors and workers will comply with these common site practices in order to prevent injuries.”
Collin Pullar, President of the SCSA, strongly recommends that consumers ask questions about safety when choosing a home builder or renovator: “No builder wants an injury to happen on their job site, but no home owner wants their new home tainted by the thought that a worker was killed or injured building that home.” He encourages home buyers to make sure they use a qualified, licensed and insured home builder or renovation company. “Always ask if they are registered with the WCB. If they are doing something you think is unsafe on your property, you have the right to ask them about it,” Pullar says.
Chris Guérette, CEO of the Saskatoon and Region Home Builders’ Association, agrees. “There is a security in knowing you are building your home with a registered home builder. We all want a home built on time with zero deficiencies. Our home builders are continuously improving the quality of housing projects through safety training and culture education via our Certified Professional Home Builder Program. A commitment to worker safety is a commitment to professionalism, consumer protection, and zero injuries.”
Kurt was carried by STARS to hospital in Regina. He is grateful for the prompt medical attention he received and says without STARS he wouldn’t be alive. McFadden says. “We are glad Kurt is recovering, but his life and his family members’ lives are changed forever. Injuries like Kurt’s are preventable. Our goal is Mission: Zero, and achieving it starts with basic safety site practices.”
For more information or safety training, visit the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association online at www.scsaonline.ca or follow them on Twitter: @scsaonline.
WorkSafe Saskatchewan is a partnership between the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board and the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. Find WorkSafe online at www.worksafesask.ca or on Twitter @worksafesask.