Nfld. & Labrador

Deaths of transmission-line workers show need for safe workplaces: union head, safety association

The heads of an electrical workers' union and a safety association say the deaths of two men working to build a transmission line near Come by Chance, N.L., are a sad reminder of the importance of safe workplaces.

'We've made great progress, but there's always work to be done'

Don Murphy, left, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union Local 1620, and Jackie Manuel, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association, say construction is a risky business that can be made safer with proper construction and worker consultation. (CBC)

The heads of an electrical workers' union and a safety association say the deaths of two men working to build a transmission line near Come by Chance, N.L., are a sad reminder of the importance of safe workplaces.

Don Murphy, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union Local 1620, said he was saddened to hear of the deaths of two men Monday.

Don Murphy, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' union Local 1620, said union members are willing to speak up about safety concerns, but in non-union workplaces, workers are sometimes worried about losing thier jobs. (CBC)

"I was shocked, dismayed, very concerned, obviously," he said.

"It's always alarming and disturbing when you hear of something like that in your business, in the industry that we are in, doing the work that we do, transmission construction in this province."

Jackie Manuel, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association, echoed Murphy's sentiments.

"Our thoughts are with the families that are no doubt having the worst days of their lives," she said.

"Where we spend our days talking about prevention and how to prevent accidents, it's always rough to learn about terrible accidents like that."

Workers worry about losing jobs if they speak up: union head

Murphy said his workers are willing to speak up about safety issues — but sometimes speaking up can come at a cost.

"I do know it's a real fear for workers when they are out there, how do [concerns] get received by the employer, or the foreman, or the lead of a crew," he said.

"In the non-union world, definitely. I know that that fear is out there, because people want to keep their jobs."

When asked if he had more concerns because Forbes Bros., the company building the tower, is a non-union company, Murphy said no.

Jackie Manuel, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association, says construction safety has improved overall over the last two decades. (CBC)

"You're talking about people's lives. You're talking about safety. To me, [union certification] is secondary," he said.

"Yes, absolutely, I would have loved to have them under the IBEW banner. I would love to have those workers working and not being afraid to speak up if there are safety issues. Every worker deserves to be able to work safe and go home safe."

Pre-planning, training and regular checks are all ways to keep workers safe, said Manuel. Construction is a risky business, she said.

"All the more reason that the bar should be higher in terms of what the standards are," she said, adding that — overall — things have been improving over the 20 years the association has been providing safety training.

"We've seen such a dramatic improvement in health and safety in our industry in that 20-year period," she said.

"As an industry, we've made great progress … but there's always work to be done."

With files from Here and Now

now