The National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job was an appropriate day for Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris to showcase his private member’s bill aimed at boosting safety for those working on the province’s roads.
Harris met with representatives of the Ontario Waste Management Association and the Emterra Group at their Elmira location Apr. 28 to highlight the his Slow Down, Move Over legislation.
The legislation proposes to increase fines and demerit points for drivers who don’t make room and slow down for waste management, recycling and construction workers and vehicles on Ontario’s roads.
Don Wickie is a waste management worker with Emterra in Elmira, and he has seen the horrors of workplace death firsthand. About 20 years ago, he lost a friend and coworker to a distracted driver.
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“He was 30 years old. I had trained him to drive the truck, He had just gotten his license and I had gotten him a job and everything. I still feel that guilt to this day. The driver was distracted and she wasn’t looking. I heard a bang and I got out of the truck and half of him was in the back and the other half was on the ground. She hit him that hard and severed him right in half,” he said.
“We need to drive the message home. We just need better awareness, more common sense and to get people to care. The biggest thing is that people don’t care anymore. My family is the most important thing to me. I don’t want my wife to have to find out that some idiot ran me over or hit me because he was being negligent. Everybody wants to get home to their families.”
Paulina Leung, the vice-president of corporate strategy and business development at Emterra, says waste management and recycling collection is a vital part of today’s society.
Emterra is her family’s business, and she says while they do what they can to keep workers out of harm’s way, Ontario needs to catch up with other provinces and states with legislation making it illegal to compromise employee safety.
“We never want to make that call to a family member to give that news that will forever change their lives. Although Canada doesn’t have statistics on this, when we looked at the United States, waste collection workers have the fifth most dangerous job,” she said. “I am sure it is not that much different here. It is important that we recognize this and make some serious changes so we don’t lag behind. There are other jurisdiction in North America that already have these rules – Kentucky is the 13th state to legislate laws that require drivers to slow down around waste collection vehicles. Even in Canada here, British Columbia has legislation to make drivers slow down and move over. Our association thinks this is wrong and extremely outdated. We are here to advocate to make the working environment for our employees a lot safer.”
Harris, the champion of the Slow Down, Move Over legislation, says these rules have already been extended to emergency vehicles and more recently, to tow truck drivers. When a waste management worker is on the back of a collection truck, that is their workplace and it deserves to be respected.
“We need to recognize that waste and recycling workers, as well as construction workers, when they are out on our streets and our municipalities in the province, and their lights are flashing, that is their work place. It is an important work space and in fact, puts those workers at risk if we as the motorists are distracted or for any other reasons, put those lives at risk,” he said. “Each and every one of these workers’ lives here in Ontario, especially those that put their lives at risk each and every day to provide a necessary service in our community.”