Ottawa's transit boss defends safety at LRT construction sites

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Ottawa's transit boss defends safety at LRT construction sites

The head of transit services at the City of Ottawa is defending safety at LRT construction sites after two workers were injured in a span of seven days and the president of Ottawa's labour council said workers didn't feel safe at work.

"What's concerning is that we're doing this hearsay stuff, rather than getting those facts out on the table," John Manconi said on Monday afternoon.

"If those employees have those concerns they should escalate them. I deal in facts," he added.

Manconi reiterated the message from the Rideau Transit Group (and OLRT-Constructors), in charge of the LRT project, and said the project's lost-time injury rates are better than the industry average. 

"The city has a proven track record on safety. We are not going to compromise safety to the public, and to employees, to anyone to reach a deadline," he said.

The president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council raised concerns Sunday after another worker was injured Saturday in the LRT tunnel near Kent and Queen streets. 

Sean McKenny said that incident and another reported injury on March 11 highlight the dangers workers could face as crews work to meet project deadlines. 

No outstanding orders from Ministry of Labour

Manconi said RTG indicated to the city how it would accelerate the work after delays caused by the June 8 sinkhole that left a gaping crater just east of Sussex Drive.

He said the group has added extra shifts, additional equipment and also has three safety inspectors doing two visits through the entire project everyday. 

Manconi also pointed out RTG is governed by the Ministry of Labour and there are no outstanding orders from the ministry. 

He encouraged any workers who have concerns about their safety to come share them with the city.

"They have a right under the health and safety laws to report concerns also," said Manconi.

"That's the thing. It's a two way street, that's why our laws are so proactive. You have a requirement as an employer and you also have a requirement as an employee and I would encourage any employee who's got any concern to raise those concerns," he said.

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson also defended the project's safety record and said he has written to McKenny asking that he give him the names and contact information of those workers who have raised concerns so he can meet them without RTG management present.

"I'd be happy to meet one on one with them and hear their concerns specifically," Watson said. 

McKenny said on Sunday workers will often stay silent because they fear reprisal.

"Certainly an employer cannot do that when it comes to Health and Safety Act, but the fact of the matter is that if a worker does step forward and does raise a complaint the chances are great that they're gone within a few days, they're laid off for whatever reason," McKenny said. 

Ottawa Paramedics told CBC News on Saturday they were directed not to talk to media. But Watson said that was a communication mix up there was no one on duty from city corporate communications.

He said paramedics will sometimes seek approval from communications when the Ministry of Labour is involved.

"We have to make sure the Ministry of Labour is comfortable with what is being said because it may affect their investigation," Watson said.