The president of the Ottawa Construction Association is defending the companies building Ottawa’s light rail network after a CBC News story revealed workers have filed dozens of complaints about reportedly dangerous conditions.
John DeVries said he has minimal knowledge or insight into the project’s safety records — but he does know that “world-class firms” with top safety protocols and management systems are working on the project and “doing their best.”
The comments come after documents obtained by CBC News showed that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour has received 56 complaints about alleged injuries and reportedly dangerous working conditions on the project’s construction sites.
The complaints include allegations of a dozen injuries, including electric shock and carbon monoxide exposure. One worker was reportedly knocked unconscious after being struck in the head with a hose. Another expressed concern to the ministry that “this construction project has the imminent potential for workers to be fatally injured.”
Up to 1,200 people work on the LRT project each day, many inside tunnels.
DeVries said while the industry always strives for zero incidents, construction work has inherent risks.
“This is the largest job in Ottawa’s history. There’s going to be incidents,” he said. “We have incidents throughout the whole industry. We’re never going to get to zero. That’s a fantasy. Stuff’s going to happen — either human error or management error.”
DeVries’s association represents firms active on the project, including EllisDon and the companies doing the shotcrete and excavation work.
He took a tour of the LRT tunnel last year and said the project is more complex than the average construction job.
“It is a high-risk job because it’s more mining than construction,” he said. “It’s not your typical condo project going up or your museum being built, where it’s open air and green field.”
Devries called the LRT project a “challenging job” and said workers are facing “ugly conditions.”
“There are hundreds of workers involved. There’s millions of man hours involved, working in basically a mine shaft with mud. [It’s a] tightly confined area, it’s going to be not everyone’s cup of tea, and there’s going to be a lot of issues to deal with.”