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Dartmouth family urges construction workers to ‘say no’ to unsafe work

Dartmouth family calls for more safety protocols at N.S. construction sites
WATCH: After viewing footage of construction sites in Nova Scotia, a Dartmouth family is begging the construction workers to follow the rules. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports.

Janice Way wipes away tears as she pulls her stepson’s organ donor certificate out of a small box, wrapped in gold paper.

Brandon Alcorn had been working in construction for around eight months, when on March 13, 2018, he fell at a site in the Dartmouth Crossing shopping area and suffered irreparable brain damage.

He was just 22 years old.

“If you met him, he left an impact on you,” said Way, sitting on the couch of her Dartmouth home next to Brandon’s obituary in the newspaper.

“We’ve had teachers stand up at his funeral and said the impact, even though he had to be kept on track at school, [was] that he was just such a big-hearted, kind — like everybody just loved him.”

Brandon’s father Larry Alcorn said he thinks about his son every day. He described the last year as “rough,” with every construction site he sees causing an involuntary “cringe.”

“People have said to me I should probably go and talk to somebody, but again, I know that’s not gonna bring him back,” he told Global News.

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“They always say you’re supposed to bury your parents, not your kids.”

Brandon’s family agreed to an interview in response to an exclusive Global News investigation on construction safety in the province, that, to date, has uncovered what sources allege is life-threatening risk to workers.

They’re urging construction workers to refuse unsafe work, no matter the career consequences, and demanding that employers double down on mitigating risks, no matter the cost.

Brandon Alcorn’s older brother Steve, and his father Larry, are urging workers to refuse unsafe work.
Brandon Alcorn’s older brother Steve, and his father Larry, are urging workers to refuse unsafe work. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

READ MORE: Sources identify ‘huge risk’ on Nova Scotia construction sites

Brandon’s older brother Steve knows all about fall protection. He runs rappel towers for the military, training people to scale down them correctly, and has never seen an injury under his watch.

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He said it’s frustrating to see construction workers, like those captured in Global News’ footage, working at height without fall protection.

“Regardless of what your boss is going to think, it’s [not] going to outweigh you coming home alive every single day to your family,” he said, sitting next to his father at home. “I’d say go above your boss and talk to them about what they’re getting you do to because at the end of the day, it’s your life, not theirs.

“It’s hard watching other people with their siblings when mine will never come back.”

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WATCH: Sources say fear underlies silence on Nova Scotia construction sites

Exclusive: Global News investigation uncovers ‘huge risk’ at N.S. construction sites
Exclusive: Global News investigation uncovers ‘huge risk’ at N.S. construction sites

Brandon’s death is still under investigation by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, which enforces occupational health and safety in Nova Scotia.

The department takes a preventative, education-first approach to OHS enforcement, initiating prosecution, stop work orders and administrative penalties only after warnings and compliance orders are given.

For employers, contractors and companies, the administrative fines are $500 on the first offence, $1,000 on the second and $2,000 on the third, or subsequent offences. For employees, it’s $100, $200 and $500, respectively.

While those charges can be layered, sometimes adding up to tens of thousands of dollars, Way says it’s still not enough to deter companies and workers from cutting safety corners and cost-saving in the process.

“It’s got to be more crackdowns on that safety,” she said. “I think stiffer fines have to be put in place for these companies as well. I think if there are stiffer fines and more repercussions that happen, then they would be forced to do more safety.”

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Asked if its system of enforcement was effective in maintaining compliance on construction sites, the department wrote in an emailed statement that safety is its top priority, and its approach focusing on both education and enforcement is “balanced.”

“By understanding the rules, workplaces are more likely to follow them,” it said. “In fact, in all cases there are multiple pathways to achieve compliance. We want to ensure that everyone involved understands our legislation, codes and standards. We also want everyone to see the benefits of each rule and to know how to comply.”

Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Alcorn died after a construction site fall on May 13, 2018. His death remains under investigation.
Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Alcorn died after a construction site fall on May 13, 2018. His death remains under investigation. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

READ MORE: Campaign calls on employers to create safer working conditions

Brandon is one of eight Nova Scotia construction workers killed on the job in the last four years, and one of about 1,000 Canadians who die at work annually.

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Legislation written in response to the Westray mining disaster of 1992 allows the federal government to hold companies criminally responsible if they fail to protect their staff from injury and death. In the 15 years since the bill’s passing, however, only eight cases have brought criminal charges as a result, and few ended in convictions.

None of the developers whose footage is shown in this story provided comment on the investigation and no charges have been laid against anyone captured in the tape.

The Department of Labour, while declining an interview for this story, confirmed on Wednesday that is has followed up on Global News’ footage, and “conducted inspections in the areas referenced.”