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This accident involves a tragedy that happened at an apartment building balcony restoration project on Kipling Ave in Toronto.

Metron construction who had been in business for 23 years was removing and replacing old balconies that had deteriorated. To access the balcony face the contractor was using a hanging swing stage system that had been rented from a company in Ottawa.

 

On December 24, 2009, six (6) employees (five (5) workers and a site supervisor) were on the swing stage that the contractor intended to be typically used by only two (2) people even though a typical swing stage of this size should be able to take much more than 2 people. All workers were wearing a harness; only two (2) lifelines were available. One of the workers was properly attached.  A second worker was attached, but not correctly. After handing tools and materials to workers on the swing stage, the project manager (a seventh person) asked the site supervisor ‘about more lifelines’, the supervisor told him ‘not to worry about it’. While the project manager was accessing the swing stage from a balcony, the platform broke in two. The project manager was still hanging onto the balcony and managed to pull himself to safety. When the platform split, five of the six workers fell 13 stories to the ground below. Four were killed instantly and the fifth, who was not tied off correctly, survived although he sustained catastrophic injuries involving broken legs and a shattered spine. The one uninjured worker, who was tied off properly, was pulled to safety by the project manager after the swing stage collapsed.

 

The swing stage was not properly marked with the maximum capacity load allowance, serial numbers, identifiers or labels (as required by health and safety legislation and industry practice). The stages also arrived without any instructions, user manuals or other product information, such as design drawings prepared by an engineer as required by OHSA s. 139(5).

 

The resulting forensic examination of the swing stage platform determined that a significant cause of the collapse was defective design and welding by the manufacturer. If properly designed and constructed, a swing stage of this size should have been able to hold 1,800 kilograms which was more than the load weight at the time of the collapse. At the time of the accident the swing stage had been in use for over two (2) months.

 

The Ministry of Labour had issued stop work orders against the contractor at this site at least two times in the months leading up to the accident. The first stop work order was issued in October for the following reasons: 1) the production of drawings for the roof anchors and the last annual inspection report were not available onsite; 2) failure to provide proper access to the swing stage; 3) failure to ensure that the wire mesh was "securely fastened" from the floor to the top of the guardrail on the swing stages; and 4) failure to install additional guardrails. The citation issues were addressed, and the stop order was lifted the next day.

 

A second stop order was issued on December 17, one week before the accident.  This stop order involved an unrelated swing stage located at the garage door of the same building. This citation was resolved and the stop-work order was lifted the same day. Between October 20 and December 17 the Ministry of Labour had conducted 9 field visits to this site.

 

Additionally, a toxicological analysis determined that at the time of the accident, three of the four deceased victims, including the site supervisor, “had marijuana in their system at a level consistent with having recently ingested the drug.”  Evidence also revealed that the constructor stood to get a $50,000 bonus if the job was completed by the end of December.

 

Shortly after the accident the project manager asked the uninjured worker to lie and say he was not on the swing stage when it collapsed, and to claim that he had received a copy of the company’s health and safety manual prior to the accident, even though the worker could not read the English document. It was noted that the deceased workers ranged from 25 to 40 years old, they from Latvia, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine and that all of the workers had limited English language skills. It was further noted that the employer provided approximately 30 minutes of training on how to operate the swing stage, and failed to ensure that the workers were trained in a language that was understood.

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Lou LeBlanc
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July 12, 2017
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