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Bentall Four tragedy reshaped approach to safety in British Columbia

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by Jean Sorensen

A ceremony is planned this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bentall tragedy, one of the worst construction accidents in B.C. construction history.


A ceremony is planned this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bentall tragedy, one of the worst construction accidents in B.C. construction history.

On Jan. 7, 1981, four workers were killed while at work on the Bentall IV Tower, a Vancouver city landmark.

The four carpenters plunged 36 floors to a terrifying death, after a flying form broke away from the top of the tower.

Gunther Couvreux 49, Donald W. Davis 34, Yrjo, 46, and Brian Stevenson, 21, died that day.

A coroner’s inquest found that there was a lack of safety training and supervision on the project and that the flying form design did not meet local standards.

“There was nothing to indicate the construction workers were negligent,” said Grant McMillan, president of the Council of Construction Associations.

McMillan visited the site as a representative of the Workers Compensation Board shortly after the incident. He also reviewed the coroner’s findings some 30 years later, in his current position.

A memorial to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy is planned for Jan. 7 at the Burrard SkyTrain station in downtown Vancouver.

It will highlight how the deaths reshaped safety in the industry and the continuing dangers faced by construction workers.

“There had been a number of serious incidents before this one,” said Wayne Peppard, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.

As a result of the Bentall Tower tragedy, the Construction Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) was formed and made recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

Some of the CIAC report’s recommendations included that 35 per cent of WCB inspectors have a background in construction, that inspectors visit all construction sites once a month and that inspections be carried out on all shifts, whether day or night.

Peppard said construction labour officials deliberately avoid using the term “accident” to describe fatalities and serious injuries in the industry.

“They are preventable incidents,” he said.

“We need to shift our focus onto being more preventative in a significant way, then we will come to terms with much of the mayhem that occurs in the industry today.”

McMillan agrees.

“The right thing to do is to focus on worker training, supervision and ensuring that companies are following their own regulations and there is enforcement by WorkSafeBC,” he said

“It really starts with the employer and setting up safety programs and ensuring the work place is safe.”

Despite the strides made in safety, Peppard said much work remains to be done.

Over the 30 years since the Bentall IV Tower incident, there have been 740 construction workers killed on the job in B.C. In the past 10 years, the B.C. industry has logged an average of 25 to 30 deaths per year.

Peppard said half of those annual deaths are attributed to asbestos exposure cases where workers, not properly informed of the dangers of asbestos, worked without adequate protection.

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