WorkSafeBC not ready to release report on Kelowna crane disaster despite pressure from union, worker's father

Crane report still on hold

UPDATE 1:10 p.m.

WorkSafeBC is rejecting the International Union of Operating Engineers' call to immediately release its report on the Kelowna crane disaster.

In an email to Castanet, the agency says, “We understand and empathize with those affected by this tragic incident, including families, friends and colleagues, and their desire for more information.

“We appreciate and respect the views of IUOE Local 115, as they are a key stakeholder in our tower crane safety efforts.

“However, WorkSafeBC will not be releasing its incident investigation report into the Kelowna crane collapse, at this time, to ensure it does not affect the charge assessment process.”

WorkSafeBC goes on to say that it has continued to incorporate key learnings from the investigation into ongoing crane safety initiatives. Those updates include advice for tower crane operation, assembly, disassembly, and repositioning.

As part of a crane safety initiative, a Provincial Crane Inspection Team conducts proactive risk-based inspections across B.C. to ensure employers are effectively managing key risks across all stages of crane use.

WorkSafeBC also points out that there are “robust regulatory requirements for tower cranes" in B.C. and employers have to follow specific crane and hoist-related regulations, including Part 14 of the Occupation Health and Safety Regulation.

ORIGINAL 8:15 a.m.

The day after Kelowna RCMP announced they are recommending a single charge of criminal negligence in the 2021 crane collapse that killed five people, WorkSafeBC is being pressured to release its report into the tragedy.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115 says WorkSafeBC has known the results of its investigation for too long and needs to share it with the industry and families. The union represents hundreds of crane operators and other crane workers in the province.

WorkSafeBC said it would not release the findings of its investigation until after the RCMP concluded its investigation. The police force announced Tuesday that it was recommending a charge of criminal negligence causing death to the BC Prosecution Service, which will decide whether to proceed with the charge.

Five men died in the crane collapse on the morning of July 12, 2021 at the Mission Group's Brooklyn at Bernard Block project on St. Paul Street. The Stemmer Construction crane collapsed during the dismantling process, killing construction workers Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook, and Patrick and Eric Stemmer. Brad Zawislak, who was working in an adjacent building, was also killed by the crane crashing down onto his office.

Adding his voice to the call for new regulations is Vilness’s father.

"This could happen to your own son and to your own daughter. It's not just the people working around the equipment that are impacted by this work. It's the people walking and working around these construction zones," says Chris Vilness. "Cailen, Brad, Jared, Eric, and Patrick all had futures and families. Everyone should care because their lives matter, just like yours."

He points out that in less than an hour, Cailen got training before he was part of the crew sent to dismantle the crane. Who is responsible to decide he was competent enough to be doing that job?” he asks.

"This industry can't be a free-for-all. Five people passed away including my son Cailen, due to a lack of training. This industry has to be regulated," says Vilness.

IUOE Local 115 business manager Brian Cochrane says the announcement of criminal charges being recommended should provide the impetus for the province to mandate licensing and certification for all workers who assemble, erect, climb, reposition or dismantle tower cranes.

"B.C. missed the opportunity to lead immediately following the Kelowna crane collapse. Now we must be leaders in tower crane safety across Canada to ensure this never happens again,” notes Cochrane.

The union says B.C. has a poor record when it comes to holding people responsible for workplace deaths, citing the lack of accountability and responsibility after two mill explosions in 2012 that killed four people and injured 43 others.

“The families who have suffered loss deserve justice and workers throughout BC deserve to know employers can be prosecuted when workers are killed or severely injured at their workplaces," says IUOE Local 115, assistant business manager Josh Towsley.

While the RCMP did not indicate who they recommended be charged, in B.C. both a company and its managers can be charged for criminal negligence in a workplace death.

-with files from Rob Gibson

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