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BC Building Trades mark 41st anniversary of Bentall IV tragedy

Warren Frey
BC Building Trades mark 41st anniversary of Bentall IV tragedy
BC BUILDING TRADES LIVESTREAM — BC Minister of Labour Harry Bains said the Bentall IV tragedy was a “catalyst for B.C.'s construction industry, showing the need for increased compliance and emphasis on safety.”

The BC Building Trades marked the 41st anniversary of the deaths of four workers in 1981 in the Bentall IV tower tragedy with a hybrid virtual and in person ceremony.

On Jan. 7, 1981, Gunther Couvreux, Brian Stevenson, Donald Davis and Yrjo Mitrunen fell 36 floors to their deaths when the fly form they were standing on collapsed at the under-construction Bentall IV tower in downtown Vancouver.

“The Bentall IV tower accident was so catastrophic that 41 years later, members of the Building Trades still talk about where they were, what they heard and how it affected the entire industry,” said BC Building Trades executive director Brynn Bourke.

“Every year we say their names and we come to the memorial for them in Vancouver to remember the terrible sacrifices they all made, and that their families continue to make.”

The annual ceremony was held as a hybrid event this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. A small group of speakers were scheduled to gather at the memorial site outside the Burrard Street Skytrain station but high winds moved the in-person portion of the event indoors on short notice. A livestream at BCBuildingTrades.org was held simultaneously with the in-person ceremony.

 

 

B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains spoke at the event and called the Bentall IV tragedy “a catalyst for B.C.’s construction industry, showing the need for increased compliance and emphasis on safety.

“Incidents like this drive change and progress,” he added.

Vancouver-Kingsway MP and NDP critic for health Don Davies echoed Bains’ comments.

“In the most horrifying way possible this brought attention to the issue of unsafe work, not only in construction, but in every occupation across the country,” Davies said.

BC Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk said there has been progress in improving worker safety but “cranes are not supposed to fall from the sky in British Columbia,” referring to the Kelowna crane collapse in July 2021 where five people were killed.

“All of this during the unbelievable third year of a pandemic that workers have to endure every day,” he added.

Cronk said it is imperative worker safety remains top of mind.

“In the four decades since the disaster, probably millions of people have passed through the building’s glass doors and very few of them understand the cost,” he said. “The right to a safe workplace is fundamental and yet that seems way too out of reach for far too many workers.”

In the decades since the Bentall tragedy more than 1,000 construction workers have died in B.C. due to workplace trauma or disease, a BC Building Trades release stated.

In 2021, there were 28 work-related deaths in the construction industry and of those, 16 were due to disease and 12 were due to trauma, including the workers who were killed in the Kelowna crane collapse.

Construction workers continue to sustain an occupational fatality rate three times the provincial average, the release stated.

“Construction is the deadliest sector in the country. We owe it to these workers to do better, to be better,” Bourke said.

A stream of the ceremony is available here (registration required).

 

Follow the author on Twitter @JOCFrey.

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