Editorial: Recommendations from Bowley inquiry point us in the right direction

A tragedy yields some good thinking about worker safety.
Patrick Flannery
January 10, 2018
By
The electrocution death of 21-year-old Signature Events worker, Jeremy Bowley, in 2013 continues to reverberate around southern Ontario four years later. The inquest into the accident, where Bowley touched a power line with a tent pole resulting in his death and injuries to two other workers, concluded at the end of last year and issued eight recommendations as reported in the London Free Press.
They constitute, in my view, an excellent potential road map to avoiding tragedies like this in the future.

Add basic occupational health and safety training to the high school curriculum.
This is one of those ideas that is so obvious it makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Even a morning assembly informing students of their rights to refuse unsafe work would be better than nothing (my daughter’s high school had one of these). Better would be a unit within the business or technical streams that told students about the various dangers they might encounter at typical summer jobs in the agriculture, industrial and construction sectors and what to look out for. Thinking back to my summer jobs, I was put in circumstances where I was operating heavy equipment, working at heights, driving large vehicles without the proper license, lifting too much weight, working alone with potentially dangerous power tools, working without protective equipment, working in potentially unsafe structures and handling hazardous materials – all without any training outside of the occasional reminder to be careful. Being a young male and therefore immune (in my mind) to any injury except that which comes from looking wimpy, I accepted all these challenges without question. It’s only luck that I didn’t end up like Bowley.

Mandate health and safety training for small business owners and new hires, with health and safety standards and training for all company health and safety representatives.
Let’s face it, exempting companies below a certain size from health and safety regulations that apply to larger companies has never made much sense. Workers aren’t less prone to injury because they are one of five instead of one of 1,000. There’s an argument to be made that small operations can’t afford comprehensive health and safety training programs. The answer to that is government help, not waiving of the requirements. And I’ll go on record as being appalled at the exemptions that exist for the agricultural sector. Why farmers should be able to let children and untrained temporary labourers work around power take-offs, drive tractors and climb silos is beyond me.

This would be a good time to remind you that you can get your workers trained as company safety officials for free at the Canadian Rental Mart this year. The excellent Lucie Giroux of Sunbelt Rentals will give your staff what they need to fulfill Ontario’s requirements to have a person with basic occupational health and safety training on staff. And they’ll still have time to walk around the show.

The Canadian Rental Association should inform the industry that tent raising and lowering falls under the construction regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and that proper surveys with a checklist should be conducted to spot hazards.
Here’s an important role for our national organization. When the CRA asks rental businesses for support, they often hear “What’s in it for me?” The answer is, even if there’s nothing in it for you directly (rarely true), the larger industry needs a unified voice that can act as a go-between with government. If governments can’t act through industry associations, they sometimes try to regulate things directly themselves. You don’t want that.

Require building permits for even temporary structures of more than 60 square feet, with drawings showing power line locations, or verifying there are no lines.
Most of the above recommendations are good ideas or are already being implemented. But this one seems likely only to create paperwork, discourage the industry and encourage cheating. Tents less than 60 square feet can still contact power lines. And what’s to prevent people putting up three 59-square-foot tents? You only need to look at homeowners planning renovations to see the lengths to which people will go to avoid getting building permits.

The Electrical Safety Authority should educate municipalities to warn erectors about the dangers of power lines.
I know the ESA does what it can to educate anyone who will listen – the Ontario CRA had an excellent presentation by ESA officials at its last conference. If municipalities are unaware of this safety issue...wow. 

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