By Grant Cameron
Special to the GTA Construction Report
Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is building a memorial garden and pavilion at its head office in Oakville to honour members who have been killed in construction site accidents over the years or died as a result of an occupational illness.
More than 150 dignitaries, union staff, business reps and officers, safety officials, building trades representatives, construction employers, and family members of four operators who’ve died under such circumstances, attended a groundbreaking June 9 at the site.
At the event, Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher spoke about the significance of the garden and pavilion to the union and also the importance of industry partners and government health and safety agencies working together to make construction sites safer.
He noted that 225 workers were killed in construction site accidents in Ontario between 2003 and 2013, and that in 2013 alone 17 construction workers were killed.
“I really think the time has come for the construction industry as a whole to come together and put some mettle behind the words,” he said. “Nobody should go to work and not come home.”
Gallagher said Local 793 hopes to work with health and safety agencies and its partners in government to re-double efforts to make sure such tragic accidents don’t happen again.
He told the audience that the garden and pavilion will be a fitting tribute to those who’ve died in construction accidents.
“We are proud to be one of the few trades that has constructed a memorial garden like this,” he said.
The garden and pavilion were designed by Hamilton-area artist Patrick Bermingham. The pavilion will have three outer arches and two inner arches, creating a quiet place for reflection. The inner arches represent the union’s supporting role in the construction of infrastructure in Ontario. The outer arches were inspired by the Burlington Skyway bridge.
Names of deceased members will be engraved on the arches. The structure should be completed by September.
Dufferin Construction is contributing $40,000 to help with the costs of building the foundation for the pavilion, while Bermingham Construction is donating $25,000 and the Crane Rental Association of Ontario is providing $10,000 for construction costs.
Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, congratulated the officers of Local 793 for their foresight in building the pavilion.
“This is really a step forward in prevention,” he said.
Dillon noted it is possible to achieve zero injuries because inquests into the deaths of construction workers have all concluded that the tragedies could have been prevented if better health and safety practices were in effect.
Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), said stakeholders must focus their efforts on health and safety “every minute of every day” in an effort to get the number of injuries to zero.
She said the garden and pavilion will help to elevate the importance of health and safety on construction worksites.
“It’s going to have a lasting impact on so many people,” she said.
Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said industry stakeholders must work together to prevent construction fatalities.
“We owe it to the families who’ve come out here today to re-double our efforts,” he said.
Grant Cameron is IUOE Local 793’s director of communications.