'We have a problem': Labour council worries about safety at LRT construction sites

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Ottawa's transit boss defends safety at LRT construction sites

The president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council said he is worried about safety at LRT construction sites after a worker was injured on Saturday – the second reported LRT workplace injury in seven days.

On Saturday afternoon, emergency crews were called to the site at the corner of Queen and Kent streets in Ottawa after reports a worker had been "severely injured," according to Ottawa Fire Services.

Ottawa Paramedics told CBC News they were directed not to talk to media.

On Saturday evening, the Rideau Transit Group, the consortium in charge of the LRT project, told CBC the man "walked out of the tunnel of his own volition" and was taken to hospital. The extent of the man's injuries was not released. 

Then, about 24 hours later, paramedics issued a media release that said the 40-year-old man suffered "minor injuries" from being hit on the head with a large hose.

Lack of transparency

The lack of immediate transparency is a concern for ODLC president Sean McKenny, who said if it was a safe workplace, people would talk.

"Clearly we have a problem at the LRT. I don't think there's any doubt about that," McKenny said Sunday. 

"Workers are concerned for their safety and more needs to be done before we do have a worker fatality," he added.

On March 11, a worker fell while installing rebar at the Parliament station. No serious injuries were reported in that case, according to RTG. 

McKenny said the incidents highlight the dangers workers could face as crews work to meet project deadlines. 

The agreement that council approved in 2012 called for the LRT to be complete in spring of 2018.

RTG is also under obligation to have all the above-ground work in downtown Ottawa completed by June 1, 2017.

"Being on time is what is starting to concern us a lot. Normally, when that happens there's a push. That's when safety gets missed, it gets overlooked because that bottom dollar is what becomes important at the end of the day," McKenny said. 

Worried workers calling

Recently, McKenny started keeping track of what he said is an increasing number of calls from worried workers.  

"It's not normal for that many workers to be calling me, talking to safety, and the fact that they're concerned each and every day when they go into work," McKenny said. 

In a written statement, Rideau Transit Group spokesperson Sylvia Boyadjian said safety is a priority for RTG (and OLRT-Constructors).

There are three full-time safety coordinators assigned to the tunnel who do safety inspections twice per day, according to RTG, which noted its lost-time injury rates are better than the industry average.