Friday, January 07, 2011

Bentall IV Construction Accident Tragedy Remembered After 30 Years.
Latest statistics show another 30 workers killed in the BC construction industry in 2009, bringing the total to over 770 fatalities since 1981.

VANCOUVER — The death of four construction workers killed when they fell from the 36th floor Bentall Tower IV in 1981 was commemorated today, 30 years after the tragedy, with a powerful call to increase workplace safety inspections.

The BC Building Trades Council said that in 2009 another 30 construction workers died from workplace incidents and workplace-related illnesses, bringing the total fatalities in the industry to over 770 since the 1981 tragedy. Statistics for 2010 are still not available.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1981 four workers - Gunther Couvreux (49), Donald W. Davis (34), Yrjo Mitrunen (46) and Brian Stevenson (21) - were standing on a flyform used for pouring concrete when it broke away from the 36th Floor of Bentall IV. The tragedy is one of the worst fatal construction incidents in the province’s history.

This year’s memorial ceremony paid special attention to the findings of the report of the Construction Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) that was commissioned in the wake of the workers’ deaths. When it was released in 1982 the CIAC report made 60 recommendations to improve safety and protection of construction workers in an effort to prevent further carnage in the industry.

In spite of improvements the construction industry remains one of the deadliest. Since the Bentall tragedy over 770 workers have lost their lives as a result of traumatic incidents or exposures to cancer-causing toxins such as asbestos.

“CIAC found a direct link between fewer inspections and more deaths and injuries” said Tom Sigurdson, Executive Director of the BC Building Trades Council.

Pointing to statistical charts showing the impact of staff and inspection cuts from 2001 to 2004 Sigurdson added, “What the inquiry found is as relevant today as it was in 1981. During the years 2001-2004, inspections in BC were cut by over 50%. The result was that WorkSafeBC claims jumped by 30%, leading to more fatalities and more terrible accidents,” he said.

In spite of the failed government policies of the early 2000’s Sigurdson praised the work of WCB inspectors and staff. “Fortunately, since 2005 the WCB has received new resources. Inspections have risen steadily and initiatives in residential inspection have improved safety conditions for some of the most vulnerable workers” he added.

A crowd including family members of the victims, construction workers, labour leaders, WorkSafeBC staff and managers, and local politicians attended the annual ceremony held at a memorial site across from the Bentall tower.

Colin Snell, a retired carpenter and member of the Bentall inquiry in 1981 was a featured speaker at the memorial. Snell lamented the continuing high number of fatalities in the BC construction industry. “Since January 1981 there has been on average 26 killed every year. The carnage continues” Snell said.

Following the Bentall tragedy zero tolerance was implemented on flyform construction and there have been no further fatalities in that part of the industry. “If zero tolerance is what is required for all facets of construction, then zero tolerance is what we should demand” Snell said.

Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour, Al Johnson, Regional Manager of Construction Services for WorkSafeBC and Deputy Mayor for the City of Vancouver, Councilor Geoff Meggs, also addressed the crowd of people who attended the memorial ceremony.

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