Crane collapse

A crane in Kelowna buckled and fell Monday. Five people were killed.

Monday’s deadly crane collapse in downtown Kelowna has renewed a call by the International Union of Operating Engineers in B.C. for mandatory regulations governing the assembly and dismantling of construction tower cranes across the province.

IUOE Local 115 business representative Frank Carr said Wednesday the need for certification of workers who assemble and dismantle cranes and a registry of those who are certified to do the work is long overdue in B.C. He said currently in B.C., only crane operators must be certified.

“The government to needs act act now,” said Carr.

WorkSafe BC occupational health and safety rules only require those building and dismantling tower cranes to be “qualified” to do so — but do not explain what qualifications are needed other than to say they must follow the crane manufacturer’s instructions, or those of a professional engineer if the installation varies from the manufacturer’s instructions.

In a news release issued Wednesday by the union, Brian Cochrane, business manager of IUOE Local 115, said the union was deeply saddened by the “catastrophic” accident in Kelowna on Monday and expressed condolences to the families of the five men killed in the incident.

The top portion of the 25-storey high crane at the Brooklyn on Bernard residential tower site on St. Paul Street broke away while the crane was being dismantled and crashed to the ground, smashing through an office building next door. One man inside the building was killed and and four construction site workers on the ground also died.

Emergency responders could not immediately recover the body of the office worker from under the rubble of the smashed building because of safety concerns on the site Monday. They did pull his body out late Tuesday evening using a team of recovery specialists aided by engineers.

The union said the rules regarding crane assembly and dismantling need to change now. It wants Victoria to legislate mandatory training and certification of workers involved in the assembly and dismantling of tower cranes, to set out minimum qualification standards and to establish a registry of qualified individuals who work in that industry.

Carr said his union has lobbied for and got mandatory tower crane operator certification but for 20 years has not been able to get mandatory certification for those assemble and dismantle tower cranes. He said he believed there was no political will to do that in the past.

“It is a shame that it sometimes takes major incidents like this to prompt action from government regulators,” said Cochrane in the news release.

The Kelowna crane collapse is being investigated by WorkSafe BC, the B.C. Coroners Service and the RCMP.

WorkSafe BC said its investigation is in its early stages and it would be premature to share any details of contributing factors or possible causes of the crane collapse.

It’s investigation will attempt to determine the cause of the incident, and any contributing factors, with the aim to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, it said.

The crane collapse prompted a local state of emergency to be declared around the Brooklyn on Bernard residential tower construction site Monday. That lead to an evacuation order for several nearby buildings, including a seniors’ residence. The RCMP said that order will remain in effect until the site is safe and secure.

Cochrane said in addition to advocating for stronger rules to make worksites with cranes safer, the public also needs to be educated better about the possible danger of what is happening above them when they are near construction sites.

“People aren't looking up,” he said. “Why would they? They're busy with their day and looking forward when they're walking down the street, not knowing what’s happening above them (and) without realizing that if something were to fall on them it could injure or kill them.”

While Vancouver, with its many residential and commercial towers under construction, has been a focus of the union’s bid to improve crane safety, it is also concerned with the rest of the province. An estimated 80 active tower cranes are operating in Vancouver and another 200 are currently operating across B.C, says the union.

IUOE Local 115 has worked with the City of Vancouver, the B.C. Association of Crane Safety, contractors and other stakeholders on the issue and in Vancouver there is a pilot project underway to improve crane safety that stems from the unions recommendations. It includes requirements for:

• Pre- and post-assembly meetings and checklists

• Full lane closures and better traffic control on adjacent streets

• Weekday tower crane erection and dismantling

• Pedestrian and cycling lane closures

• Larger staging and mobile crane set up areas

• Permit extensions and allowing an additional full day for crane assembly and dismantling to reduce pressure on workers to get the job done under tight timelines