Roadside worker deaths have 'spiked,' St. Thomas inquiry hears

A former provincial labour official with more than 30 years experience told a coroner’s inquest into the death of a St. Thomas construction worker that Ontario saw a spike of road deaths the year Brian Daniel was killed.

The year Brian Daniel was killed on an Ontario highway, 3 others died and 12 suffered critical injuries

A former provincial labour official with more than 30 years experience told a coroner's inquest into the death of a St. Thomas construction worker that the province saw a spike in road deaths the year Brian Daniel was killed. 

Daniel, 56, died July 2, 2014 while directing traffic at a road construction site on Highway 3 at Burwell Road. 

The inquest, which began Monday, will look at the circumstances surrounding Daniel's death. 

Filomena Savoia retired from the Ministry of Labour three years ago, after spending 34 years with the government agency in charge of workplace safety and enforcement. 

Savoia testified Monday that Daniel's death was one of four that happened during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, a time period that also saw 12 critical injuries on road construction sites province wide. 

She told the inquest that even though the province saw a spike in deaths, there were no updates to provincial legislation. 

Instead, she told the inquest, there was a two-year public awareness campaign aimed at drivers by the Ontario Road Builders Association, an organization that represents 30,000 road construction workers in the province. 

2 decades since legislation updated 

Savoia said the last major update to the legislation governing health and safety for road workers was almost two decades ago, after the death of Dick Van Rooyen. 

Van Rooyen died in August of 1998 when the construction site supervisor was struck by a car driven by a university student who fell asleep at the wheel after a night of gambling at the Windsor casino. 

Prior to Van Rooyen's death, Savoia told the inquest that the person directing traffic often didn't get much in the way of training and it was a job normally performed by students working a summer job. 

"Those days are gone," she told the inquest. "There's now a requirement for training." 

Savoia also described the road construction industry as "high risk," and said that between 1999 and 2016, there have been 309 fatalities in Ontario. 

The top four catagories of death in most workplaces, according to Savoia, include falls, being crushed, being struck or electrocution. 

Savoia also noted that during her 34-year tenure with the Ministry of Labour there have been significant improvements in worker safety. 

"There have been great improvements in construction since I've around," she told the inquest. 

Testimony continues this afternoon.

The tribunal is expected to last four days and will hear from a total of eight witnesses.