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WorkSafeBC crane collapse report withheld until criminal investigation complete

Evan Saunders
WorkSafeBC crane collapse report withheld until criminal investigation complete

Nearly two years after a crane arm collapsed and killed five people in Kelowna, B.C., the RCMP say its investigation into the incident will continue for the foreseeable future.

“The criminal investigation into this incident is extensive and complex, and as such, it is anticipated that this investigation will remain ongoing for an extended period,” writes Kelowna’s RCMP in a joint update with WorkSafeBC.

The RCMP have been working through thousands of seized documents and pieces of evidence throughout the investigation, according to the update. The investigation is in the hands of the RCMP Serious Crime Unit.

A spokesperson for the RCMP told the Journal of Commerce they could not speak as to the causes of the collapse or when the results of the investigation will be released.

And while the RCMP notes its investigation into the collapse is independent from the regulatory investigation done by WorkSafeBC, the two organizations are working together to an extent.

WorkSafeBC states its investigation has been completed but the report will not yet be publicly released.

“A decision has been made, in consultation with the RCMP, to not release the WorkSafeBC investigation report publicly, at this time, to ensure it does not jeopardize the ongoing and concurrent criminal investigation,” reads the update.

On July 12, 2021, a crane collapsed at the site of a 25-storey development by Mission Group in Kelowna.

The arm of the crane fell as it was being dismantled and collided with a nearby office building. Eric and Patrick Stemmer, Cailen Vilness and Jared Zook ― all construction workers ― were killed working on-site. Brad Zawislak was working in the office building and was also killed by the falling crane arm.

WorkSafeBC has been working with subject-matter experts and engineers to investigate the sequence of events, components of the crane and work procedures that played into the tragic collapse. WorkSafeBC also conducted witness interviews and examined documents relating to the incident.

While the WorkSafeBC report is currently being withheld from the public, the organization states the investigation has resulted in key learnings about tower crane assembly, disassembly and repositioning which have been incorporated into safety initiatives.

Shortly after the joint update was released, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 released a statement condemning the lack of progress and clarity from the two investigations.

“We need to know what went wrong, how to fix it and what to teach apprentice crane operators to do differently,” said Brian Cochrane, business manager for the union, in a press release.

“Lives are at stake on these results.”

The union expressed concern the slow results could follow a trend of employers escaping responsibility when workers die in B.C. It cited two mill explosions in Northern B.C. in 2012 in which WorkSafeBC flaws resulted in a lack of criminal charges, and the 10-year investigation surrounding the death of Sam Fitzpatrick which resulted in crown counsel dropping charges as examples of this.

“No one was held responsible in either case and this should not happen to the five families mourning those lost in the Kelowna crane collapse,” he said.

Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.

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