O H & S | Skills Training

February 24, 2006

Health & Safety

Fatal fall stats hover at 20 yearly

No age limit in ongoing need to keep educating

Older construction workers are more prone to fatal accidents than younger workers, and the number of annual deaths in the Ontario construction industry — which had been on a long-term decline — stubbornly hovers at around 20 fatalities per year.

A Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO) report on fatal and non-fatal injuries found that workers age 40-plus accounted for 62 per cent of the 75 fatal falls that occurred between 1997 and 2005.Doug McVittie, director of operations for CSAO, said the rate proves it’s important to get health and safety messaging and training out to more than just young workers.

“That’s a good thing and we don’t need to detract from that,” he said of educating the youngest in the workforce. But let’s not just focus on the young guys. Let’s keep an eye on the older guys that are working at heights.”

Overall, things look good in the industry. According to the report, the number of non-fatal falls in construction declined by 36.9 per cent from 1996 to 2004, and the the number of deaths due to falls in Ontario construction remains similar to fall-fatality rates of the mid-1990s.

The number of fatalities in the industry seems to have leveled off after years of declining. In 2000, there were 16 construction deaths in Ontario, rising to 21 in 2001. Deaths decreased to 19 in 2002, but rose to 30 in 2003. There were 20 deaths in both 2004 and 2005.

“The rate doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot. It fluctuates from year to year but the trend over the last several years is relatively flat,” McVittie said.

The industry’s overall fatality rate in 2004 was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, a slight increase from 2000 when it was 4.9 per 100,000 workers.

The report states that Ontario’s construction fatality rate “is erratic. On average, the fatality rate has not shown a clear decrease or increase since 1997 – 1998,” it says.

McVittie said it’s noteworthy a downward trend in falls occurred while employment in the industry expanded. “There’s lots of reasons why that rate might have gone up, but it did not. That strongly suggests that the prevention message is being effective out there.”

However, the report shows the rate of fatal falls has not similarly improved. In 2003, a year when 16 workers died from falls, fatalities due to falls were almost 40 per cent greater than in 1996. In 2004, fatalities from falls declined to 11.3 per cent less than in 1996.

He said while fewer workers are falling, unfortunately, what’s happening is a disproportionate number of them are suffering from fatal injuries when they do fall.

“Let’s prevent everybody from falling off all ladders, and that way we don’t have to worry about any of the outcomes,” he said.

Bill Nicholls, president of the Ontario Council of Painters and Allied Trades, said injuries and fatalities from falls remains a problem for the low-rise residential sector. Reading from a list describing falls that resulted in fatalities in the sector, he said many were cases where standard health and safety precautions seem to have been disregarded.

“Some of these accidents certainly are freak accidents. I question the lack of health and safety education that appears in a lot of these situations,” Nicholls said.

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