Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
The Manitoba Federation of labour (MFL) met with ministers from the provincial government in September 2013 to discuss ways of making construction zones on highway safer, following a controversial verdict relating to the death of a 21-year-old road worker in 2010.
The meeting, which took place on September 16, 2013 was in response to MFL President Kevin Rebeck’s open letter to Manitoba’s Minister of Family Services and Labour, Jennifer Howard, published on August 15, 2013 demanding improvement to the provinces safety laws and regulations for highway construction workers. “I’ve had a brief meeting with the government and there is some commitment,” Rebeck says. “We’ve been advocating for some time for changes.”
On June 28, 2013 79-year-old Michael Blostein was found not guilty of dangerous driving in the death of flag worker Britney Murray, whom Blostein had struck down in a construction zone near Winnipeg on October 18, 2010. Blostein had been driving 112 km/h in a 60 km/h zone and later claimed that he had not seen any workers until right before the accident.
“The judge said that although Blostein was doing approximately 112 km/h, that is an out of the ordinary of what a regular, ordinary person would be doing, which we think is ludicrous,” Rebeck says. “If a judge can interpret a law that way, the law needs changing.”
The changes for which Rebeck is lobbying include adjustments in speed limits and clear indications of where they begin; stronger enforcement of safety rules; protective barriers for workers in areas with high-speed traffic or icy roads; safer positioning for flaggers; and safe minimum distances between workers and signs indicating road construction.
Rebeck has been working closely with Murray’s family to promote these changes. Neil Murray, the victim’s father, blames the tragedy largely on vague signage at construction sites in Manitoba. He cites as an example the sign “Maximum 60 km/h when passing workers.”
“The sign did not necessitate the driver to slow down,” Murray says. “He didn’t see any workers, so ‘when passing workers’ didn’t apply. People do not have a clear definition of what that means, and it’s too much to decide and process when you’re travelling at 90 km/h.”
Glen Black, director of the WORK SAFELY program with the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, applauds MFL’s efforts to make provincial highways safer for construction employees. “We want to ensure that these workers have a degree of safety that would be comparable to your workplace or my workplace,” Black says. “The province, by enacting legislation to give some greater visibility to a flag person, is to be commended.”
He adds that there should be more education to ensure the motoring public understand that the construction season not only applies to construction workers, but also includes first responders and toll-truck operators.
HRS Group Inc. has an online course dealing with the topic of construction flagging. This course has been very active and appreciated right across Canada and can be found at our website at www.HRSgroup.com.
It is sad to think that only three years ago this type of accident was seen in court with protection for drivers. The laws have to be updated to protect those in a working environment.
Can you picture how other flaggers feel about this sort of accident and the resulting judgment? Would you want your kids standing on a highway trying to protect their co-workers and not be protected themselves? That would be unthinkable on a construction site, industrial site or a mine. (except in Alberta)
Ensure your workplace is a safe place. ‘Due Diligence’ demands that all reasonable care be taken to protect your workers. If you feel you cannot go to the nth degree to protect your workers then get out of the business. You are becoming more of a liability and labour costs will continue to grow as accidents continue to happen.
By the way, check our website and ensure that your people take the course. You will see how some of the law is seen in Canada and, if you can, bring this to the attention of your provincial government to make a case for improvement.
Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’, ‘Construction Flagger Certification’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.