A man who suffered two broken legs after a two-tonne elevator motor fell on him Tuesday night, is lucky firefighters responded as quickly as they did.

A 44-year-old man had his legs pinned underneath the heavy equipment — weighing as much as a small car — after a cable snapped at a construction site where the old Citadel Inn Hotel once stood.

Matt Stanford was walking home from work Tuesday night when he passed the construction site. He said he heard a chain "snap" and then he heard a man screaming. He said he flagged down a nearby police car.

"I ran to him and told him something had happened so he called it in and then peeled out," said Stanford.

"Then I skirted down [the hill to the scene] to see if I could help. By that time, another cop was there and the workers were around, seeing what was wrong and assessing. Then we just helped to clear debris so emergency services could come and have clear access. We made sure he had a blanket so he didn't go into shock and tried to do whatever I could to help and tried not to be in the way while doing it."

About a dozen firefighters showed up a short time later, some of which were trained in technical rescue. They brought with them special inflatable airbags designed to quickly inflate. As the bags inflated, firefighters placed blocks underneath the massive motor, working fast to raise it off the man within minutes.

"It definitely made all the difference. It could be the difference between him keeping his legs and losing his legs," said fire Capt. Bruce MacDonald. 

A stop-work order has been placed on the construction site and the Department of Labour is investigating the incident.

"We'll be looking at the crane that was used to lift the equipment and the rigging that was used with the crane ... And the motor itself," said Rodney Woodworth with the Department of Labour.

Construction, fishing industries most dangerous

Nova Scotia has released a new plan aimed at improving workplace safety less that 24 hours after a construction site accident sent a man to hospital with serious leg injuries.

The program is aimed at expanding instruction through public schools as well as investigating ways to reduce injury rates in high-risk industries such as construction and fishing.

Former Labour and  Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More acknowledged Tuesday night’s incident.

She described the goal of the five-year plan that has been in the works for a while.

"Essentially this strategy is about making Nova Scotia the safest place to work in the country," said More.

The province is currently in the middle of the pack, although the injury rate has declined by 30 per cent over the last decade.  

The highest risk industries are construction and fishing. So far this year, six men have died at sea.

The head of the Workers' Compensation Board Stuart MacLean said it will take "a cultural change"  to prevent future tragedies.

"We need the leadership in the fishing sector to embrace health and safety in a new way. They have a health and safety association. There’s a lot of really positive momentum that’s started, but as you can see, things can still happen which are deeply troublesome for all of us," said MacLean.

The safety strategy includes a review of the process that fines employers if labour inspectors discover they are breaking health and safety rules.

Employers are leaning on the the Labour Department to give them more time to comply with the rules, before they're enforced with orders and fines.  

The plan does not address whether more inspectors will be hired.