A tragic anniversary is a moment to reflect and a chance to realign goals for the Vancouver construction community.
Construction workers, labour organizations, representatives of all levels of government and families of the fallen gathered together on Jan. 8 to mark the 37th anniversary of the deaths of four workers who fell to their deaths while working on Bentall Tower IV in downtown Vancouver.
Gunther Couvreux, Brian Stevenson, Donald Davis and Yrjo Mitrunen were killed on Jan. 7, 1981 when the fly form they were standing that was attached to Bentall Tower IV collapsed, sending the men plummeting 36 storeys downward to street level. For more than a decade a public ceremony has been held at a memorial to the fallen workers located across the street from the Bentall IV building.
BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said the yearly ceremony is a good reminder at the start of the year of the critical importance of workplace safety.
“It’s a reminder for all of us in the construction industry, whether they’re the leaders of the trade union movement, contractors or workers on the tools, to be safe,” he said. “This is an industry that has an ever-changing work environment and you have to be constantly vigilant otherwise you could expose yourself to unsafe practice. We want to make certain that workers, contractors and leadership are very much aware.”
For WorkSafeBC vice-president of prevention services Al Johnson, the yearly ceremony resonates on a personal level.
“It allows me to focus and set the stage for the year, remembering what can go seriously wrong when events like this occur on worksites,” Johnson said.
“The focus in construction continues to be falls from elevation. Out of the 44 deaths in 2017, 17 of those were trauma and I believe eight or nine of those were from falls.”
Johnson said with a changing construction environment, WorkSafeBC is diversifying its approach to engagement with the industry.
“We’re also focusing on responsibilities; the construction workplace is different today with different responsibilities,” he added. “The role of the general contractor is lesser today than in years gone by, so (it’s the) responsibilities of the various parties, working together, collaborating and engaging the workforce more than ever before.”
The 44 work-related construction deaths reported in 2017 represent a 42 per cent increase over 2016. During the ceremony, participants placed 17 red roses on the Bentall IV memorial to mark deaths from trauma and 27 white roses to represent workers who died from exposure and disease. Of those 27 workers, 25 deaths were related to asbestos exposure.
The federal government has proposed a series of tough new regulations regarding import, export, use and sale of asbestos, and Sigurdson said he is encouraged by the move but cautioned the importance of enforcement.
“Once we have the regulations in place, we have to have enforcement as well; that’s going to be key. I can’t imagine that without enforcement, we’re going to make all that much of a difference,” he said.