Heron bridge collapse: Ontario’s worst workplace disaster

August 10, 2018

On the afternoon of August 10, 1966, a 160-foot span of a new bridge being built over the Rideau River and Canal gave way, dropping hundreds of tons of half set concrete about 60 feet into the river valley. Nine workers were killed and another 55 injured in the disaster – Ontario’s worst workplace “accident”

It’s not listed among the top tourist destinations in Ottawa, but if you are visiting the National Capital Region this summer (as many Canadians do), you may wish to pay your respects to the nine workers who went to work that day and never got to go home, and the other 55 whose lives were forever changed.

An official inquest into the disaster laid blame on the engineers, the use of green lumber and the lack of diagonal bracing on the wooden support forms, which caused them to collapse as concrete was being poured to form the bridge deck.

The consequences for those responsible – the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario suspended two of its members, reprimanded a third, and the construction company, O.J. Gaffney Limited of Stratford, Ontario, was fined $5,000 (the maximum penalty under the Construction Safety Act).

Ontario’s construction safety standards were rewritten following this incident.

In 1987, the Canadian Labour Congress placed its National Monument to Workers Killed and Injured Each Year at Work in Ottawa’s Vincent Massey Park, within sight of the bridge. It is here that the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ottawa & District Labour Council, and local unions hold their ceremony each year on April 28 to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

Occupational “accidents” and work-related diseases kill more than 2.3 million workers around the world each year. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

“The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) tell us that in 2016, 904 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada. Among those dead were 5 young workers aged fifteen to nineteen years; and another 20 workers aged twenty to twenty-four years.

Add to these fatalities the 240,682 claims accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, including 7,562 from young workers aged fifteen to nineteen, and the fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, and it is safe to say that the total number of workers impacted is even higher.

What these numbers don’t show is just how many people are directly affected by these workplace tragedies. Each workers death impacts the loved ones, families, friends and coworkers they leave behind, changing all of their lives forever.”

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More stories from Canada’s Labour History.

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Resources:

Ottawa Citizen:The Ottawa bridge collapse that shocked the worldCollapse recalled on eve of Heron Road bridge renamingReporter Bruce Deachman on the Heron Road Bridge collapsePicture of human error emerges from inquest into collapse of bridge (1966)
CBC-Ottawa:
‘Never be forgotten’: Heron Road Bridge renamed 50 years after deadly collapseFamilies remember Heron Road Bridge disaster
Today in Ottawa’s History:
The Heron Road Bridge Disaster

Other Resources:

Canadian Labour Congress:

Health & Safety

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety

The National Day of Mourning – April 28

Huffington Post:

National Day Of Mourning: This Is How Many Canadians Die At Work

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