Toronto deaths put Yukon on edge

When four migrant workers in Toronto fell 13 storeys from a suspended construction platform on Christmas Eve, employees at the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board were shaken up.

When four migrant workers in Toronto fell 13 storeys from a suspended construction platform on Christmas Eve, employees at the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board were shaken up.

That’s because the Yukon had experienced three “serious” worker falls of its own in the final months of 2009, all accidents that could have been prevented, said board president Valerie Royle.

“We were concerned that people would see that (event) in Toronto and say, ‘That’s not an issue here,’ when in fact it is,” said Royle.

“We certainly don’t have 13-storey buildings here in the Yukon but you can be just as dead from 30 feet as 13 storeys.”

Thursday, the organization released results from an investigation into three accidents that happened between August and October 2009.

On August 25th a construction company supervisor fell nine metres from the roof of a home being built in the Whitehorse Copper subdivision. The supervisor had used safety equipment in the past but when he went up that morning to finish up a quick task he chose not too.

He sustained serious back injuries as a result.

Less than two months later, another builder working at the Whitehorse Copper subdivision site fell off a roof. Slipping on a sheet of wood paneling the 23-year-old fell five metres, breaking his left wrist.

And in September, another construction company supervisor fell off a roof at a South McClintock Bay worksite in Marsh Lake. The supervisor slipped on a wet patch of roofing that sent him flying almost four metres to the ground. He injured his head, ribs and wrist as a result.

In all three incidents, safety equipment, such as a fall-restraint system, was on-site but was never used, said Royle.

Those accidents led to workers taking several weeks off work, she added.

In 2009 alone, the Yukon saw 67 workers falling from construction sites around the territory.

The year before there were 82, far more than are warranted for a territory with such a small worker population, said Royle.

“Some of those falls were only one level but anyone of those falls has the potential to lead to a worker becoming a quadriplegic or even death,” she said.

Using protective equipment requires a conscious effort and it’s something that hasn’t yet become habit in the Yukon construction industry.

Instances where workers are suspended more than three metres in the air, are working on an elevated surface with unguarded edges, or are working on a roof with a slope of two vertical to three horizontal or steeper, require safety equipment.

“In some cases it’s because people are rushing and they’re going one more time up the ladder and not putting on the necessary equipment,” said Royle.

“What we’re saying is a few minutes can save a life or months of rehabilitation and pain and suffering from an injury.”

In July, the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board started cracking down on employers that don’t provide personal safety equipment and workers who don’t wear the proper equipment. The fines ranged from $50 for workers and $250 for employers.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com