Three major contractors working on the Ottawa Light Rail Transit (LRT) project are scheduled to be in court next month in a pretrial session charged with a total of eight health and safety violations.
The charges are set against a backdrop of over 500 work orders issued by the Ministry of Labour (MOL) over the past four years of construction, 430 site visits by MOL personnel and 77 stop work orders.
MOL spokesperson Janet Deline said of the 77 stop work orders, 70 have been complied with. Of the 500-plus orders, the vast majority have been complied with.
SNC-Lavalin Constructors (Pacific) Inc., carrying on business as a member of OLRT Constructors, was charged in May with four counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Dragados Canada, Inc., EllisDon Corporation and SNC-Lavalin Inc., operating together as OLRT Constructors, also face four charges, laid in May.
The regulations listed in the charges relate to hose storage, the storage of combustible rubbish underground, the lack of a heated room for underground workers and obstructions in a workplace. The firms are scheduled to appear in an Ottawa court Oct. 25.
A spokesperson for OLRT Contractors declined to discuss health and safety issues given the matter is before the courts.
"To suggest this is par for the course and we have to move on is absolutely ridiculous,"
Ottawa and District Labour Council
The City of Ottawa, the owner of the project, said through its deputy city solicitor David White, "The city is not in a position to speak to the Ministry of Labour orders, as these were directed at RTG and the city is not a party to any of the associated charges."
Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the consortium in charge of the project, created OLRT Constructors to undertake the build.
John DeVries, president of the Ottawa Construction Association, said he stood by comments he made to local Ottawa media on LRT health and safety. He said then he did not have detailed information about the incidents but said "world-class" firms are working on the project and they are "doing their best."
The five-year, 12.5-kilometre phase one of the project is the largest build in Ottawa's history, he pointed out, and is high risk with kilometres of tunnelling under the downtown core.
"We have incidents throughout the whole industry," he said. "We're never going to get to zero. That's a fantasy."
That brought a rebuke from Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, who said as a licensed carpenter with decades in the industry he knows better than to suggest large projects can't be undertaken incident-free.
"To suggest this is par for the course and we have to move on is absolutely ridiculous," said McKenny.
He said as Ontario and Canada spend billions on infrastructure projects in future years and attract international construction firms looking for work, the problem could get worse.
"This is a huge issue," he said. "I think that in Ontario our health and safety legislation is pretty good and I don't think they appreciate it as much as we do here."
Dragados Canada is part of ACS Group, based in Spain, while EllisDon and SNC-Lavalin are Canadian.
In three-plus years since the project launched in 2013, MOL representatives visited the OLRT project on 430 different occasions with approximately 280 initiated by the MOL to proactively assess compliance with legislation and ensure the health and safety internal responsibility system is functioning, explained the MOL.
McKenny said joint health and safety committees and workers trades committees have been "ineffective." He also said he had spoken with Ministrer of Labour Kevin Flynn who had expressed an interest in identifying mechanisms to improve the project's safety record, and that there had been several meetings with representatives of the owner and the consortium that seemed, for awhile, to improve standards.
"My hope is that over the next period of time, the creation of more effective joint health and safety committee meetings and worker trades committees meetings will occur," he said. "We'll see how it all plays out."
Deline said it would be inappropriate for the MOL to further comment on the project and its safety given the charges laid against OLRT.
Spotlight on Ottawa LRT constructors
OTTAWA — The Ottawa LRT Constructors health and safety file has been growing over the past two years.
Incidents calling for Ministry of Labour investigation over that period have included the February 2016 collapse of a bridge near the Bayview station onto an excavator while it was being demolished, with no injuries reported; spilling of hydraulic fluid when a triaxle piston went through the operator cab of a piece of equipment near Preston and Albert streets in March of this year, with no injuries; also in March, a worker injured after falling from a platform near Parliament Station; and a couple of months ago, a gas leak as OLRT subcontractors were doing streetscaping work on Queen Street.
There was also an April incident in which a crane operator was lifting a mobile concrete mixer down a ramp near Laurier and Waller streets when the crane toppled over, with the mobile mixer landing on the ramp. No injuries were reported.
Last November, the Ministry of Labour was notified that a section of the LRT tunnel had been damaged where walls were being reinforced with rebar. There were no serious injuries.