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Critical injuries in Ontario’s construction sector continue to rise

February 1, 2018


  • In January 2017, a construction worker in Ontario slipped and fell 7.5 metres off the upper roof of a single-family home build, resulting in a loss of consciousness and fractured back and leg.
  • In September 2017, a worker spreading shingles on a roof fell 6 metres and landed on a deck, suffering a large laceration to his head and possible spinal injury. A construction worker working in an elevator shaft was killed when a piece of equipment fell on him. A  worker installing stairs for a store at the Eaton Centre in Toronto died after falling about 7 metres to a storey below.

These incidents are just a few of the injuries that have occurred in the Ontario construction sector.


Critical injuries are up:

  • 180 in 2014
  • 158 in 2015
  • 206 in 2016.

According to data from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), traumatic fatalities in the construction industry are up:

  • 24 in 2014
  • 19 in 2015
  • 23 in 2016.

(All statistics are represented in the fiscal year, running from April 1 of the year mentioned to March 31 of the following year.)


  • According to some members of the construction industry, the higher number of critical injuries is due, in part, to the ministry of labour expanding the definition of “critical injury” on Jan. 1, 2017.

As a result, certain injuries that had been considered to be more minor were included in the critical injury stats.


For example

  • Prior to the change, the fracture of a wrist, hand, ankle or foot was not necessarily considered a critical injury.
  • But the number of critical injuries logged between April 1 to Dec. 31, 2016 was 155, according to a Ministry of Labour data.

That means in just nine months, the number of critical injuries in 2016 was nearly on par with all the critical injuries that occurred the previous fiscal year (158).


Ian Cunningham, president of Toronto-based Council of Ontario Construction Associations, says the most likely reason for an actual increase in injuries and fatalities is the high level of construction activity underway across the province.

“You can expect that the busier you get, the more hours worked, the more new people that come into the business, there is at least an opportunity for more accidents and injuries,” he says.


  • Apart from 2008, when the recession caused a significant rise in unemployment among construction workers, construction activity in Ontario has grown every year from 2002 to the present, according to Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada in Ottawa. From 2002 to 2017, the number of workers employed in construction rose from about 348,000 to 500,000.
  • In 2016, construction accounted for six per cent of Ontario’s gross domestic product, making it the province’s seventh largest sector. About 30 per cent of all work-related traumatic fatalities and occupational disease fatality claims for schedule 1 workplaces occurred in the construction sector, yet the sector comprises only 6.7 per cent of all provincial employment.

The rise in incidents and fatalities are more difficult to understand in light of the many measures the Ontario Ministry of Labour has taken to improve safety on construction work sites in recent years.


  • These measures were, in part, a response to the 2009 tragedy at Metron Construction in Toronto, when a scaffold collapse killed four workers and left another seriously injured.
  • These measures have included regulatory changes and legislative amendments for the use of suspended access equipment, drill rigs, ladders and fall protection.


  • In May, the Ministry of Labour issued a Construction Health and Safety Action Plan, some of which is aimed at increasing access to information about construction regulations, boosting awareness of new working at heights requirements and improving supervisors’ communication skills. The ministry has started to implement some of the plan’s recommendations.


  • In 2015, the government introduced mandatory working at heights training for workers on construction projects who use fall protection. More than one-third (37 per cent) of traumatic fatalities were due to falls from heights in the construction sector in fiscal year 2015, which dropped to 30 per cent in 2016. By Nov. 1, 2017 about 450,000 workers had taken the training. Falls from heights is the top cause of traumatic fatalities in construction and is responsible for 43 deaths from 2010-15. The next most common cause of death doesn’t even come close to falls from heights: motor vehicle incidents were responsible for 24 deaths in construction. Struck-by or caught-in objects rounds out the top three with 17 deaths.

Colin de Raaf, Ontario training director at the Cambridge, Ont.-based Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), says it will probably take time for the working at heights training to show results. The training has two facets:

  • The classroom theoretical and practical knowledge training may provide a good basis, but then there’s the application: How training is applied to the local job site makes a big difference to how effective the instruction turns out to be.

“People believe the training is sufficient, but that’s not the case. It’s just a minimum standard. As it rolls out onto the workforce, as workers get trained and get out into the workplace, the workplace improves their standards and practices on site. Then, hopefully, we will see more engaged employers, more engaged supervisors and more engaged workers. And they’ll be controlling the fall hazards,” he says.

Moreover, he adds, the training is a three-year certificate, so workers will start re-certifying in April. They will have to do a practical evaluation and demonstrate they have retained the knowledge gained in prior training to be re-certified.



Article Written by: Linda Johnson




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Trevor Harness
January 22, 2021
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