Everyone please hit the pause button and refocus on safety.

The construction industry as a collective whole is grieving. Although the industry is expansive and covers multiple sectors, we are all connected and know one another in some form or another. Our industry shares common bonds, experiences, workforce, issues, and above all, pride and passion. We also share in the tragedy and pain of loosing anyone to a workplace accident.

In essence, we are a large communal family, and since December 11, we have lost dear and valued members of that family. And that is why as an industry, we need to pause for a moment to properly grieve these losses and refocus and redirect our energies into ensuring we do not have any more such tragedies.

As reported in by the Daily Commercial News in their article on December 18, titled: “Constructors urged to pause in wake of jobsite deaths,” the following are the family that we have lost. John Martens, 21, of Langton, and Henry Harder, 26, of Tillsonburg, died as a result of injuries suffered when a four-story building under construction in London collapsed on December 11. Andrew Orfanakos, 48, of Newmarket, was killed December 14 while working on a construction site at Widmer and Adelaide streets in Toronto. An as-yet unidentified worker died December 15 when crushed by a slab of concrete at an Ontario Tech University jobsite in Oshawa. And in the afternoon of December 17, a traffic signaller at a construction site in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough was struck and killed by a motorist.

Each and every loss will affect individuals differently, but the common denominator is that the deaths will indeed affect us!

It’s a natural human reaction to be affected by the death of someone you know and have worked alongside closely for years, months or even days. As human beings, we form connections and bonds with people, and this is especially true on a jobsite where everyone is sharing in the same experience and everyone is susceptible to the same potential outcome. So, when something like this occurs on a jobsite, there is a ripple effect that emanates throughout the company and to the overall industry.

This is exactly why the OGCA, along with multiple associations and industry organizations, have all called for a “Safety Stand Down” and a refocus on health and safety.

We are all asking the collective construction industry to please focus on the people that we have lost. These people were not statistics but instead our coworkers, our friends and our family. And as such, please remember the families of the victims and make sure your thoughts and prayers are with them all.

Subsequently, the construction industry is also asking the greater community to internalize that focus and realize that safety is the most important thing for everybody because, as one big family, we all want everyone going home at the end of the day.

I also understand that everyone is frustrated and seeking answers to the question, “Why did these accidents occur?” That is a more difficult question to answer.

On the heels of these tragic incidents, I was contacted by various news outlets both thanking the OGCA for issuing the safety notice to all of our members as well as inquiring as to the rationale for the sudden spike in deaths in construction. They were seeking a rationale or response to the overall question. Unfortunately, all I could provide was my personal speculation behind the impetus for the deaths.

Please understand that I do not know the specifics of the incidents and will not elaborate any further but to provide my personal opinion.

My speculation is that we, as a global family, and construction specifically, are all overloaded from the constant and unnerving threat of COVID-19.

Since the onset, the construction industry has responded in an exemplary fashion to the threat caused by the pandemic. Our health and safety measures on site were more stringent and better than those in the general public. Our industry had dealt with the overt threat.

The issue is then the constant subconscious stressor that the actual pandemic created. Each of us, in the back of our minds, subconsciously, or at times openly, have been dealing with the unending and unwavering threat. Could I be next to be exposed? Could I catch the virus? Could this kill me or someone I know?

I believe that this constant stressor has played a very large part in the culmination of the sudden and almost unexplainable series of multiple deaths occurring in a very short timeline. Stress is nothing new to people and some thrive on it, but a prolonged exposure to a negative stressor can manifest into “chronic stress” that can have negative impacts in physical, emotional and mental well-being.

Or perhaps it is the news that a vaccine has been developed and this, in turn, allowed us to collectively exhale and permit that constant stressor to now diminish. The problem is that after almost a year of the prolonged threat, our bodies, and especially our minds, have been on overdrive and this news may have caused the flood gates to open and people to let their guard down.

I don’t know if it’s because of COVID burnout, or people hearing there’s a vaccine so they let their guard down a bit, or just the fact that they were looking forward to finishing things for the end of the year and spending time with their families. I’m not quite sure what it is, but clearly everyone has been overloaded and overwhelmed.

So, when you have too much to deal with all at once, the best course of action is to pause and take a breath. Take a step back and assess your overall situation. Refocus and redirect. Then lay out a plan to adequately deal with the issue and ensure that we all collectively cross the finish line intact.

I understand that the entire construction industry will still continue to grieve the loses of our coworkers, our friends and especially our communal family, but in order to get past these tragic events, we need to regroup and refocus because none of us want this to happen again.

Should any of our members need assistance on any health or safety related matters, or if you require any other type of assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at giovanni@ogca.ca or via phone at 905.671.3969.