Workers on Ottawa’s light rail transit project have filed dozens of formal complaints about reportedly dangerous conditions, including workers suffering electric shock, carbon monoxide exposure and head trauma.
The Ministry of Labour was notified 56 times about injuries, incidents or unsafe working conditions on the project’s construction sites between 2014 and April 2017, according to documents obtained by CBC News through freedom-of-information laws.
A former LRT worker who recently left the project because of concerns for his own safety told CBC News he felt there was “no accountability” or “guidance” inside the tunnel.
“The blind is leading the blind,” said the former worker, whose identity has been protected because he fears losing work in the industry.
This comes on the heels of an ongoing legal battle.
The ministry charged the group building the LRT, OLRT Constructors, with contraventions to Ontario’s occupational health and safety act. It faces potentially several million dollars in fines if convicted on all charges.
New details about injuries
CBC News has obtained a list of calls to the labour ministry about concerns on the LRT construction site. The lists detail how a dozen workers were allegedly injured:
- Police reported two workers injured after a dump truck wheel hit a concrete utility structure and burst. Workers were between five and 10 feet away and the force of the air and sound made the workers jump out of the way for safety and land on a concrete structure. Both workers transported to hospital.
- Worker fell into three feet of water in confined space and was winched out and taken to hospital.
- Worker said he suffered from carbon monoxide exposure in tunnel from a machine running and exhaust readings were high. He sought medical attention.
- Police report a worker was on a flat bed truck pushing a crate when a board broke off the crate causing the worker to fall on the ground. Ambulance transported worker to hospital.
- Worker was in tunnel spraying concrete on the roof, when a large piece of concrete fell from the roof just missing the worker and hitting the lift. Worker uninjured but taken to hospital in shock.
The ministry classified three incidents as “critical injuries.” A worker came forward about tripping on rebar underground, another person was hospitalised for an electric shock, and the ministry confirms another was knocked unconscious after a rubber hose used to pour concrete struck the person in the head.
Other less serious injuries where workers had to seek medical attention include allegations a worker dropped a brick on her foot. A flagman was also allegedly struck in the face by a pickup truck mirror.
Another worker allegedly twisted his ankle and went to hospital after jumping out of an excavator when a bridge fell onto the machine he was operating.
Workers sounding the alarm
The documents also detail widespread concerns about the working conditions inside the LRT tunnel. The allegations include poor housekeeping, tripping hazards, poor air quality, improper traffic control, people working while impaired and worries over a potential structural collapse.
Descriptions of the site included “very unsafe job site,” and allegations the employer and workers are “not taking safety seriously,” according to the reports obtained by CBC.
“Word gets around quick that the [ministry of labour] has arrived and people start to straighten things out only while the [ministry of labour] is there, when they are gone it goes back to lacking in [health and safety],” a complainant told the ministry.
One person expressed worry that “this construction project has the imminent potential for workers to be fatally injured.”
‘These are not acceptable incidents’
The president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Hassan Yussuff, says he’s concerned someone could be seriously injured or killed. He wants the city and employer to take safety more seriously by adding more training and enforcement.
“Health and safety should be the top priority on this project,” said Yussuff. “These are not acceptable incidents that are happening on the workplace.”
Rideau Transit Group, in charge of managing the LRT construction, maintains safety is a priority.
“We take every safety incident seriously and we work to solve problems and make improvements to our work sites if required on an ongoing basis,” reads RTG’s statement sent to CBC News. “There is no higher priority for us than sending workers home safely at the end of the day.
RTG adds the LRT project is a large construction site with 1,200 workers at any given time, working in parallel. And that all workers are encouraged to report any non-compliance with safe-work practices to their supervisor or at a joint health and safety committee. RTG says it works closely with the ministry to address issues and visits by inspectors help improve safety at its sites.
500 work orders issued
The ministry of labour has issued more than 500 work orders at the LRT site since the project started. The orders require the project to come into compliance with Ontario’s occupational health and safety act. More than 70 of the orders temporarily stopped work on some areas of the project. The vast majority of the orders have been complied with, the ministry said.
The City of Ottawa says it can’t comment on the specifics of the ministry orders. But says all orders are dealt with expeditiously.
“The city is committed to safety and has been clear with all parties involved of the importance of having the safest work environment possible,” said O-Train construction acting director Gary Craig.