KELOWNA – There are growing calls for more protocols and mandated training, just days after a crane collapse in Kelowna left five people dead.
The union of operating engineers in B.C. is once again pushing for mandatory training for those who are tasked with putting up and taking down tower cranes. It’s also calling for a provincial registry of those who have this specialized training.
“We know who they are, and then what kind of training have they had, and where’s their certificate to say that they are capable to do this work? Because until there is that, these kinds of accidents can continue to happen,” said Frank Carr, who represents the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115.
The process and registry is already in place for crane operators, but just needs to be extended, he adds.
While the cause of the collapse Monday morning has not yet been confirmed, police have said it did happen as workers were getting ready to or were in the process of taking the crane down.
Five people were killed in the incident, with four of the men identified as construction workers. The fifth man who died was working in an adjacent building when the crane fell, trapping him in the rubble.
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Experts in construction say the situation in Kelowna is rare overall. However, they note it is this specific aspect of cranes, when they are being set up or brought down, where tragedies tend to occur.
“This is one of the most critical times when you operate tower cranes. Dismantling the cranes and erecting and putting these, stabilizing these cranes,” said Mohamed Al-Hussein professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department of the University of Alberta.
“A lot of the incidents that have been recorded have often times been associated with assembly and disassembly,” added Omar Swei, an assistant professor of civil engineering at UBC.
In the U.S., Swei says there are about 40 to 50 catastrophic events, such as the one in Kelowna Monday, each year.
“So it’s very rare, but on the flip side, when it does occur, it’s very high consequence,” Swei added.
Carr says that’s why the International Union of Operating Engineers is continuing its plea to municipalities and the province for more safety requirements, such as the ones already in place in Vancouver.
These include pre- and post-assembly checklists, full lane, pedestrian, and cycling lane closures, weekday tower crane erection and dismantling, and larger staging and mobile crane set-up areas.
Despite the tragedy, many structural engineering experts say the towering equipment powering the country’s construction boom has a top-notch safety record. 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,” Al-Hussein explained.
“These crane operators are really no different than pilots,” he said. “They go through rigorous training and lengthy apprenticeships. There are no short cuts.”
Al-Hussein echoes what Swei says, adding crane failures are extremely rare given the number that are in operation.
The province says it will be looking at the recommendations that come from investigations by the coroner, RCMP, and WorkSafeBC.
Carr hopes this tragedy will be the last to instigate the changes they’ve been asking for.
“This has been going on for quite some time, and if we can’t get it implemented now, well then when will we get it implemented?” he said.