Crane accidents ‘a huge concern’ after fourth incident in Metro Vancouver

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Canadian Press

In 30 years of working in construction, Josh Towsley says this is a first, after Metro Vancouver saw its fourth crane accident since the start of the year.

“I’ve been involved in construction since I was 19 years old … and I have never seen a run like this in our industry,” he said in an interview following Monday’s incident.

“I think it’s certainly motivated government and the regulators to find solutions to what’s going on,” he said of the spate of four accidents, one of which was fatal.

Towsley was among the industry representatives who attended a meeting with British Columbia’s workers’ protection agency on Tuesday, where he said they discussed existing proposals aimed at ensuring safety in the sector.

Additional meetings are being planned to talk about “further regulatory changes that are necessary to regain the public’s confidence,” said Towsley, the assistant business manager with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115.

A construction boom is underway in B.C., he said, and it comes at a time when the province is lacking in training and experienced workers are retiring.

“I think all of those things are coming together … and creating a bit of a storm that (has) allowed these four incidents to happen.”

Towsley said the union has been trying to close the gap, acquiring two new tower cranes for training and developing curriculum with B.C.’s skilled trade authority.

They’ve also been pushing for contractor licensing and mandatory minimum training levels for workers who set up and dismantle tower cranes, he said.

B.C. government officials have said safety changes are in the works and could be announced in the coming months.

Suzana Prpic, senior manager of prevention field services with WorkSafeBC, said crane accidents have become a “huge concern” for the agency. “It underscores that workplace safety is critical and it can never be taken for granted.”

A statement from the agency said no one was injured in Monday’s incident, though it didn’t elaborate on what exactly happened. WorkSafeBC issued a stop-use order on the crane and closed part of the site until a safety assessment is completed.

Preliminary evidence indicated few if any similarities with the three other accidents in Metro Vancouver this year, it said.

Last month, female worker Yuridia Flores was killed in Vancouver’s Oakridge neighbourhood when a load fell from a crane onto an unfinished highrise.

On Jan. 26, a section of Lougheed Highway in Burnaby was temporarily shut down when a crane collapsed and dangled from a highrise tower under construction. Four days later, a crane at a site in Surrey appeared to partially collapse.

“Each of the incidents that has occurred are slightly different,” Prpic said. “And we’ll await the results of the investigation so that we can share more details.”

The issue of crane safety has re-emerged this year after police asked provincial prosecutors to consider criminal charges over the collapse of a crane in Kelowna, B.C., in July 2021. Five people were killed — four on the construction site and one person in a building next to the site — when the crane was being dismantled.

WorkSafeBC has said there were 22 incidents involving tower cranes from 2019 to 2023, including the Kelowna collapse.

The agency estimates there are about 350 tower cranes currently operating in B.C., with about 650 credentialed operators across the province.

“Incidents involving cranes can be catastrophic, and we are very concerned with the number of incidents that have occurred in such a short period of time,” said a statement from Todd McDonald, the head of prevention services at WorkSafeBC.

In response to the recent spate of incidents, the agency said it is bringing crane operators, labour and the BC Association of Crane Safety together in a “collaborative effort” to discuss how to prevent future accidents.

The meeting on Tuesday included discussion of a proposal that would require any major operation involving cranes to give the agency two weeks’ notice.

Prpic said the agency is hoping the rule would be “in place” this fall, meaning operators would have to notify WorkSafeBC about actions including setting up, repositioning and dismantling of any tower crane on a work site.

“It gives us a chance to again review that all of the requirements are in place,” she said. “The safe work procedures, the assignment of supervision in terms of those four key activities, and any other questions at that time can be reviewed with the board officer that would attend the site.”

The recent accidents have also prompted calls for better enforcement of existing safety rules and new regulations governing the assembly and dismantlement of the machines — including from the father of one of the men killed when the crane collapsed in Kelowna.

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