Michael Maukonen's family set up a tribute to him in court. According to members they hold a tribute hockey tournament each year in his honour. April 8, 2019. (Photo by Greg Higgins)Michael Maukonen's family set up a tribute to him in court. According to members they hold a tribute hockey tournament each year in his honour. April 8, 2019. (Photo by Greg Higgins)

Coroners inquest could change fall prevention regulations

Local jurors will have the chance to change fall prevention legislation as an inquiry into the deaths of three area men got underway in Chatham Monday.

While the deaths of Michael Maukonen of Windsor, John Janssens of Wallaceburg, and William Swan of Inwood weren't directly related and happened years apart, the inquest believes the incidents were similar enough to use as examples. Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke is presiding as inquest coroner while Gideon Bloch is counsel to the coroner over what has been slated for a five-day session. Bloch reminded the six jurors that the inquiry is not about blaming anyone but rather making recommendations to prevent fatalities like the ones they will hear about.

Monday was focused on Maukonen's incident on December 12, 2015. The 19-year-old died in June of 2016 after months of battling injuries from his fall in Windsor. Maukonen was replacing shingles on a two-story multi-residential complex and was moving debris into a bin below when he fell off the roof. According to Bloch, Maukonen was wearing a harness that wasn't securely fastened to a safety line.

Janssens, 73, died in January 2015 at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance’s Sydenham Campus after falling off a roof in Wallaceburg.

Swan was working on the roofing trusses of a barn on Rokeby Line in May 2018 when he fell to his death. He was 56.

The first witness called was Filomena Savoia, a retired regional director for the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Standards. Savoia made a presentation on the current training and regulations for fall safety and prevention. She asked the jury to consider if there is any way to tweak the mindset around safety and get workers to not only buy into training but keep practicing it every time they are at a job.

Savoia added there are three levels on a job site which include constructor, supervisor, and worker. She said each has their own responsibilities when on the site. The constructor is the highest level, who is responsible for making sure everyone is following regulations. Supervisors have to make sure the employees are using the safety equipment correctly and need to advise workers of existing or potential hazards. Workers have to comply with the regulations, wear equipment, and can't remove safety structures like guard rails. They are also expected to report any hazards immediately so they can be fixed.

Savoia said while there have been decreases in accidents and fatalities over the past 15 years, falls remain the number one cause of both in workplaces with an average of 20 deaths per year due to falling in the province.

In 2011, mandatory health place safety training was issued to reinforce workers and employees duties under the act. The training requirement for fall protection for construction jobs is a standardized curriculum because workers tend to switch job sites constantly and the ministry wanted consistency across the board. The training consists of a half day of theory and the other half is practical. She said workers learn about the equipment like lanyards and anchors as well as where to tie off a safety harness. Workers must pass both and the refresher classes every three years to continue working.

Savoia said there is evidence the training has had a "statistically significant" reduction of injuries but more work and time is needed because the training is still in the early stages and it is too soon to know the real impact.

She added the ministry can't keep tabs on all the worksites because there aren't enough inspectors to go around. She said inspector visits are unannounced to make sure the proper safety regulations are being followed but their priorities are responding to employee complaints. Inspectors can order an issue be rectified on the spot, in a timely manner or shut down the job site completely if the hazard is dangerous enough.  She said detailed investigations can take weeks and months and the workload can get high.

Savoia reminded the jury that inquests like this could take up to two years to before any legislation is actually changed or implemented. Savoia said when a recommendation is made it goes through consultation to look at impacts to other sectors and once there's an approval it goes a to a solicitor to draft the document. The draft then goes back into consultation which can take between three and five months. If it could potentially shut down business in other sectors then it will be reviewed again and then go to the legislative committee which could take more time to either pass or defer it to the next session.

The inquest will continue throughout the week and will have family and friends of the deceased take the witness stand along with employers and other experts in the area.

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