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Bentall tragedy marked by construction community

Warren Frey
Bentall tragedy marked by construction community
WARREN FREY - A rose is placed on the Bentall IV memorial marking the deaths of four construction workers on Jan 7, 1981. 18 white roses representing workers who died in 2019 from exposure and disease were placed on the memorial along with nine red roses representing those who died from trauma this year.

VANCOUVER – A tragic accident that took four construction workers lives almost 40 years ago brought Vancouver’s construction community together to remember. 

On Jan. 7, 1981, Donald Davis, Gunther Couvreux, Brian Stevenson and Yrjo Mitrunen fell to their deaths when a platform 36 stories up the Bentall IV building collapsed during construction.

Every year members of the British Columbia labour community, representatives of all three levels of government, families of the victims and others gather at the Bentall IV memorial located near the Burrard St. Skytrain station to remember the four men and talk about workplace safety.

BC Building Trades executive director Andrew Mercier hosted the event and said worker safety must be top of mind both at the memorial and throughout the year.

“It’s important to remember it’s not about the trades council, it’s not about the unions, it’s about the workers who have lost their lives in the construction industry and the four workers that died at the Bentall. What we try to do is create a space here to commemorate that, focus on safety issues and bring forward a space for the families to come to remember their loved ones,” Mercier said.

Mercier cited the worker’s compensation review by British Columbia minister of labour Harry Bains as a key component of pushing workplace safety forward in the new year and also cited the need for a strategy at the federal level dealing with asbestos.

“We’re calling on the federal government and federal MPs to support a national strategy for asbestos which includes a patient registry of those with mesothelioma,” he said.

“There’s been progress on the provincial front in terms of addressing the asbestos issue but progress on safety matters is never as fast as you want it to be, and so we need to take the time to commend those who’ve fought for it and dealt with the bureaucracy to implement it, but it’s not where it needs to be and we’re going to keep pushing until it gets there,” Mercier added.

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MP Jenny Kwan reinforced the importance of federal implementation of an asbestos strategy and said there has been “a lot of talk but no follow-through” by the Liberal government.

“what we want to see for 2020 is enough talk already. We heard today of the continuous death that’s occurred in the community and behind those statistics are real people. It’s somebody’s brother, somebody’s son, somebody’s spouse or father and anytime when you have injuries or death that is preventable, that’s one too many,” Kwan said.  

Mercier also stressed the importance of worksite inspection and compulsory safety training.

“Workers on site and young workers especially need to be able to recognize dangerous situations and know that they can bring that up and address that,” he said.

Brian Stevenson’s sister in law Diane Stevenson reflected on the almost four decades since the accident and said while she would never discourage people from entering the trades and pursuing their passions, they should be aware of the dangers involved.

“It’s a trade they love and that’s why they’re there. I would never discourage anybody, but all I have to says is you have to be looking out for number one but also have to be looking out for your coworkers. It’s not any one person’s responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility,” she said. “Follow your heart but be real careful.”

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