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Industry remembers Bentall incident and workers lost

Warren Frey
Industry remembers Bentall incident and workers lost

Dianne Stevenson says she has attended the Bentall memorial ceremony since it was introduced a decade ago because she wants to be an advocate for workplace safety. She wants her brother-in-law’s death to mean something.

"For us, it’s hard, but somebody has to speak for Brian. Someone has to be here to advocate for those people who are on the job," Stevenson said. "It’s very painful, and I get very emotional, but it’s the least that I can do for him, because he was the youngest member of the family."

On Jan. 7, 1981 Brian Stevenson, Gunther Couvreux, Donald Davis and Yrjo Mitrunen all fell to their deaths from the 36th floor of the Bentall Centre’s Tower IV after a fly form attached to the building that was being used for pouring concrete broke free.

Members of the construction industry, government and the public gathered at the Bentall Memorial plaque in Discovery Park near Vancouver’s Burrard Skytrain station on Jan. 9 to mark the 36th anniversary of the death of the four construction workers.

"We do this every year because we need to remember those people who have died — 971 people have died since Jan. 7, 1981. It’s quite likely, given the average, that next year we will be over 1,000. That’s a horrible number to look at," said BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson.

"So we do this to remember those workers who have died, but also to make those in the construction industry aware of the inherent danger that our industry really is. We want them to be safe, to go home and hug their families."

WorkSafeBC is putting fall prevention front and centre in the coming year, prevention services vice-president Al Johnson said.

"This year, we’re really going to focus on falls from ladders and falls from elevation so that we can try to get employers to think ‘do we need that piece of equipment, is it right for the job? Can we not use a ladder and use a scaffold or a platform instead?’" Johnson said.

He added while the injury rate is at a "historic low" in the province, there are still a significant number of serious injuries. Asbestos is also a concern for WorkSafeBC, he added.

"In construction specifically, last year out of 30 deaths, 18 were related to asbestos, and so our focus is on asbestos and we continue to focus hard and significantly on that particular issue," Johnson said.

Sigurdson voiced his support for the recent federal ban on asbestos, but pointed out that a number of buildings in B.C. still contain asbestos materials.

"We have contractors who are going in, they’re not using the proper procedures to get rid of the asbestos, they’re exposing not only their workers but also the community, because disposal is also a problem," Sigurdson said.

White roses to symbolize deaths by exposure and red roses representing deaths due to trauma were placed on the plaque to remember workers that died in the previous year.

"We commit ourselves to workplace safety, so that one year, hopefully sometime very soon, we will not have to lay any roses," Sigurdson said.

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