Construction site death raises questions over safety standards

Labour leader questions what province is doing to protect workers in wake of Roland Huetzelmann's death

Ronald Huetzelmann died as a result of a construction accident at a Quadra Street work site.

Ronald Huetzelmann died as a result of a construction accident at a Quadra Street work site.

A provincial labour leader said the recent death of a worker on a Saanich construction site raises questions about whether the provincial government is doing enough to protect workers on construction sites.

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, made these comments after 51-year-old Roland Huetzelmann died in hospital in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 from injuries that he had suffered on Jan. 10 when he fell from the third floor of the Shire Urban Living development, currently under construction on Quadra Street.

According to his girlfriend, Huetzelmann fell to the ground after gusting wind picked up a piece of plywood.

“It became like a sail and flew him and the plywood over the edge,” Corinne Desjarlais told the Saanich News last week.

According to data posted on Environment Canada’s website, wind speeds for Jan. 10 reached a maximum of 56 km-h.

The Workers’ Compensation Board is currently investigating the incident. Lanzinger said she hoped investigators will focus on whether Huetzelmann’s death could have been prevented.

“Why Huetzelmann wasn’t using a safety harness while working three storeys off the ground in high winds will be a central question for the Workers’ Compensation Board to delve into,” she said.

It is not clear whether Huetzelmann was required to use a safety harness. Trish Chernecki, a spokesperson for the Workers’ Compensation Board, said that question would be part of the investigation.

Another question revolves around Huetzelmann whether should have been working at all in light of the cold and blustery conditions that had prevailed that day.

“Surely as part of a rigorous and proactive approach to worker safety, the provincial government through the WCB could issue weather advisory warnings to employers to direct them to implement appropriate safety procedures, including in some circumstances halting work on a project,” Lanzinger said.

Chernecki declined to answer questions about the existence of rules that would have required Huetzelmann’s employer to shut down the site on the day of the incident because of climatic conditions, but added that the investigation would address such questions.

New information released since the incident gives Huetzelmann’s death some statistical context.

“Our records show there was one work-related fall from elevation death accepted claim between 2006 and 2015 in the Capital District,” Chernecki said. “A worker was injured in 2000 but passed away in 2015. His death was adjudicated as related to his injury from 2000.”

Provincewide, Chernecki said that there were 46 accepted claims for work-related deaths involving falls from elevation in the construction industry from 2006 to 2015.

According to Chernicki, a fall from elevation includes cases where the injured worker fell and landed on a lower level, adding that the change in elevation does not have to be large to be fatal.

“We have not seen a significant trend in the construction industry,” she said. “Over the last 10 or 11 years, the deaths range from three to six workers a year. We believe one worker death is one too many and WorkSafeBC considers falls from elevation prevention a high priority.”

Lanzinger says the provincial labour movement will pay close attention to the ongoing investigation to see what penalties are levelled at the employer for safety violations that could have led to the death.

“We believe that if an employer’s negligence causes the death of a worker, then the employer should face jail time,” Lanzinger said.