Construction union calls for mandatory training in wake of Kelowna crane tragedy

A debate about the safety of tower crane operations is gaining steam in the wake of Monday's fatal crane collapse in Kelowna. It's the third crane failure in Canada within the past two years and a construction union says it's time to beef up training for the assemblers and dismantlers of cranes. But as Shelby Thom reports, experts say the towering equipment powering the country's construction boom has a top-notch safety record.

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) is calling on municipalities across B.C. and the provincial government to implement mandatory training and certification for workers responsible for the assembly and dismantling of cranes following Kelowna’s fatal crane collapse on Monday.

“We are deeply saddened by this catastrophic accident, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of those individuals who lost their lives or were injured as a result of this incident,” said Brian Cochrane, business manager of IUOE Local 115.

“We strongly encourage the B.C. government to legislate mandatory training and certification of workers involved in the assembly and dismantling of tower cranes, setting out minimum qualification standards, as well as establishing a registry of individuals who work in this industry.”

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The trade union represents people working in construction and industrial sites across B.C., however, does not represent the crane workers in Kelowna, where the deadly incident occurred.

IUOE Local 115 said it has been lobbying for mandatory tower crane operator certification and improved industry safety standards for almost two decades.

There are 80 active tower cranes operating in the city of Vancouver, with another 200 operating throughout the province, the union said.

The organization said crane assembly and dismantling are largely completed under tight timelines in high-traffic and congested areas.

Mission Group, the developer of the 25-storey Brooklyn Tower at St. Paul Street just off Bernard Avenue, said the “catastrophic failure” of the crane occurred during the dismantling process.

Four construction workers were killed, and the body of a fifth bystander working in an adjacent building was recovered late Tuesday night.

The family of the Stemmer brothers, pictured here, is raising money via GoFundMe to help the families in this difficult time.

The family of the Stemmer brothers, pictured here, is raising money via GoFundMe to help the families in this difficult time.

GoFundMe
Above is a photo of Jared Zook, killed in the Kelowna crane collapse.

Above is a photo of Jared Zook, killed in the Kelowna crane collapse.

GoFundMe
Above is a photo of Cailen Vilness, a victim of the Kelowna crane collapse.

Above is a photo of Cailen Vilness, a victim of the Kelowna crane collapse.

Submitted

The worksite victims have been identified by family and friends as brothers Eric and Patrick Stemmer, Jared Zook and Cailen Vilness. The identity of the fifth victim has not been released.

The cause of the crane collapse has not been confirmed by investigating bodies, including the RCMP and WorkSafeBC.

Read more:
Two brothers among those killed in Kelowna, B.C., crane collapse

The incident came just days after the collapse of a smaller service crane in Toronto and a few months after a report found that the toppling of a 68-tonne construction crane during a 2019 post-tropical storm in Halifax was due to a weld failure.

The union commended the City of Vancouver for launching a pilot project to improve tower crane safety.

Requirements include pre-and post-assembly meetings and checklists, full lane closures and better traffic control, weekday tower crane erection and dismantling, pedestrian and cycling lane closures, large staging areas and permit extensions to allow additional time for crane assembly and dismantling.

The IUOE is asking other municipalities to follow suit. The City of Kelowna says it needs time to consider the union’s requests.

“At this time, City staff are supporting the experts involved in the crane stabilization and dismantling process, along with the local state of emergency to manage the evacuation of homes and businesses potentially at risk,” city spokesperson Tom Wilson said in an emailed statement.

“Our concerns and efforts right now are focused on the victims of this accident and the people who are evacuated. Once the human concerns are addressed, there will be time to consider the IUOE’s requests.”

Read more:
5th body recovered from rubble following deadly Kelowna, B.C., crane collapse

Cochrane said it’s a shame that it takes major incidents to prompt action from government regulators, but the union will continue to advocate for industry best practices to prevent future tragedies.

Meanwhile, structural engineering experts say the towering equipment powering the country’s construction boom has a top-notch safety record.

Despite a small number of recent incidents, they say construction cranes are extremely safe and crane operators in Canada are among the most highly qualified in the world.

“People should feel safe walking around cranes the same way that they’d hop on a plane for a flight,” said Mohamed Al-Hussein, a construction engineering professor at the University of Alberta.

“These crane operators are really no different than pilots,” he said. “They go through rigorous training and lengthy apprenticeships. There are no shortcuts.”

Al-Hussein said crane failures are extremely rare given the number that are in operation.

The machines are also designed and certified by engineers and inspected regularly, he said.

While accidents are uncommon, Al-Hussein said the highest-risk activity is erecting and dismantling cranes.

“When you are dismantling a crane, you are offloading from one part of the crane and overloading the other parts of the crane and that’s where the potential for failure is higher,” said Al-Hussein.

When it comes to erecting or dismantling a crane, Al-Hussein said every step of the process follows specific procedures designed by engineers that take into account factors such as wind and weather, making the risk of failure or error extremely low.

“The public should rest assured that cranes are safe and Canadian crane operators are probably the top in the world,” he said.

Tamer E. El-Diraby, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, said there are stringent standards for the design and operation of cranes.

The best way to ensure the ongoing safety of cranes is continued training, he said in an email.

—With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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