The girlfriend and brother of Roland Huetzelmann say his death on a Saanich construction site last week could have been prevented.
Fifty-one-year-old Huetzelmann died in hospital in the early morning hours of Sunday, 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 Huetzelmann’s girlfriend Corinne Desjarlais, he was working on the roof of the third floor when gusting wind picked up a piece of plywood.
“It became like a sail and flew him and the plywood over the edge,” she said.
According to his older brother Joe Huetzelmann, Roland fell 35 feet to the ground, suffering injuries to his pelvis, spinal cord and head.
“His pelvic was blown apart,” said Joe. “The back of his head was like an egg-shell.”
Huetzelmann was not tethered or wearing a harness while working on the site.
A railing consisting out of two-by-fours rimmed the area where Huetzelmann was working, according to Desjarlais.
That level of protection however was inadequate given the cold and blustery conditions that day, said Joe and Desjarlais echoed.
“He should not have been working there,” she said. “It was so cold and windy.”
According to data posted on Environment Canada Web site, wind speeds for Jan. 10 reached a maximum of 56 kilometres an hour.
The recorded minimum temperature for that day was minus 1 degree celsius. The maximum temperature that day reached 4.5.
The day before and after Jan. 10 recorded comparable conditions with wind speeds of up 57 km/h on Jan. 9 and 46 km / h on Jan. 11.
“It had been windy for days,” said Desjarlais. “That’s my concern. Why wasn’t the site shut down?”
Somebody, she said, whether it be WorkSafeBC, or the responsible site supervisor, should have shut down the site.
“Somebody should be held accountable,” said Desjarlais.
The question of whether the site was safe had actually been a topic of discussion between Huetzelmann and Desjarlais on the evening of Jan. 9, just hours before the incident.
“We had that conversation,” she said. “Why are you guys going there in this weather?”
Desjarlais said she last saw Huetzelmann when he left for the work in the morning hours of Jan. 10 at around 6:30 a.m. According to WorkSafeBC, the incident occurred at 1:14 p.m.
Desjarlais said she had communicated with Huetzelmann during the lunch hour.
“He sent me a text message and a message with heart,” she said.
Huetzelmann, who did not have any children, was the youngest of six brothers, whose parents had emigrated to Canada from Germany in 1956, according to Joe.
He said his brother Roland was an “easy, happy-go-luck guy,” who loved carpentry, and was extremely safety conscious while working.
Desjarlais said she will remember Ronald as a generous, non-judgemental person full of life.
“He had the biggest smile, the most infectious laugh,” she said.
Looking ahead, she hopes that his death will spur safety improvements.
“He should have been harnessed in, he should have been tied down,” she said.
Trish Knight Chernecki, senior manager government and media relations for WorkSafeBC, said it is currently conducting an an investigation into the incident’s cause with an eye towards prevention under the Workers Compensation Act.
Chernecki declined to answer several specific questions into the events and conditions leading up to the incident.
“All your most recent questions need to be addressed by WorkSafeBC investigators and the investigation is ongoing. It would be premature to draw any conclusions at this time,” she said.
Speaking generally to the authority and role of WorkSafeBC, Chernecki said employers are legally responsible to ensure the health and safety of their workers.
“WorkSafeBC’s role is hold employers accountable through consultation, education and enforcement,” she said. “Employers are responsible for addressing safety of their workers in cold, heat and other weather variables.”