A contractor that is preparing to face a criminal trial for the death of a worker killed by falling rocks in 2009 reported a rock slide at one of its jobsites this month.
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Peter Kiewit Sons disclosed that an unexpected rock fall occurred earlier this month at a pneumatic fish pump system project site north of Lillooet, B.C. Government officials noted the slide highlighted the “hazardous and dynamic operations” at the site and that previous slope reviews did not detect the instability.
“Fortunately, there were no injuries,” reads the report. “Crew safety is paramount. Prime contractor, Peter Kiewit Sons ULC, has implemented a number of measures to further enhance safety at the worksite following the rock fall.”
Officials stated that Kiewit has installed a concrete retaining wall along the affected rock fall area. A dedicated spotter is now onsite during work hours to watch for falling rocks and alert workers with an air horn and by radio should they detect movement. The number of workers in the construction area is also being limited. Once the construction of the fish ladder is complete, a mesh curtain will be installed on the slope to protect the site during summer operations.
For Mike Pearson the incident was disturbingly similar to how his friend Sam Fitzpatrick died.
“I’m disappointed that one year after Kiewit was criminally charged for the mismanagement that led to Sam Fitzpatrick’s death, the company is back in the headlines,” he said.
Fitzpatrick, 24, was working on a run-of-the-river project construction site near Powell River, B.C. in 2009 when he was struck and killed by a falling rock.
The incident was investigated by WorkSafeBC in 2011, resulting in a $250,000 fine for the firm, the highest penalty imposed that year. Investigators determined that Fitzpatrick was fatally struck by a rock estimated to be over 1.5 metres in diameter after the company had allowed work to proceed without clearing loose material uphill.
Prior to his death, supervisors had frequently documented loose rock hazards during their daily crew meetings.
The day before Fitzpatrick died a massive rock had fallen and damaged equipment. Investigators wrote hazards weren’t properly controlled and crews continued to work in dangerous areas.
The Fitzpatrick case is scheduled to be heard in court this November. Kiewit and two of its former supervisors are facing criminal negligence charges under the rarely-used Westray Act, which was established following the 1992 Westray Mine explosion in Nova Scotia that killed 26 miners. It amended the Criminal Code to allow for corporations to be held criminally accountable for workplace death and injury. Kiewit has stated it disagrees with the charges and intends to defend itself in court.