Call for better construction worker safety in study released on 28th anniversary of tragic Bentall Tower IV accident

January 7, 2009

VANCOUVER - On the 28th anniversary of the deaths of four construction workers on the Bentall Tower IV, the BC Building Trades Council and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a new study calling on the province to significantly improve safety in the construction industry.

Today a memorial event takes place at 12 noon to honour four construction workers who fell to their deaths together in a terrible accident during construction of the Bentall Tower IV building on January 7, 1981 - and to mourn the loss of 707 other construction workers who died in BC since that time due to workplace accidents and causes.

"Construction workers are employed in one of BC's most dangerous occupations and we simply are not doing enough to reduce accidents and fatalities," says Wayne Peppard, Executive Director of the BC Building Trades Council. "The recommendations in this study could literally save lives."

"BC's construction industry has a dismal workplace safety record that urgently needs to be addressed," says David Fairey, an economist and CCPA research associate who co-authored the study. "BC construction workers have an occupational fatality rate three times the overall provincial rate, and a lost-time injury rate that as of 2006 was 71 per cent higher than the Canadian average."

Building a Safer Work Environment for BC Construction Workers looks at innovative policies in Ontario, the UK, Australia and New Zealand that strengthen "participation rights" - the right of workers to monitor and manage hazards without fear of reprisal.

"Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that when workers actively help monitor and enforce safety in their own workplaces, it saves lives," says Fairey.

"Currently, the BC Workers' Compensation Act is weak and ineffectual when it comes to worker participation in occupational health and safety," says study co-author John Calvert, an Associate Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and CCPA research associate.

"What minimal rules there are apply mainly on larger construction sites. But with so many small firms and sub-contractors, workers employed by up to 90 per cent of the province's construction companies have little ability to participate on joint health and safety committees, or even to elect a health and safety representative," says Calvert.

The study's authors recommend that WorkSafe BC run pilot projects to test innovative policies used in the UK and Australia. They also recommend the Workers Compensation Act be immediately changed to:

Grant all construction workers occupational health and safety representation rights;
Require that all construction workers and worker safety representatives receive WorkSafeBC-certified safety training; and
Permit authorized union safety representatives the right of entry to non-union work sites.

"Compulsory safety training for all construction workers was one of the key recommendations of the BC Construction Industry Advisory Council in 1982, following the Bentall disaster," says Peppard. Twenty-seven years is already too long to wait for implementation of this life-saving recommendation."


For more information:

Wayne Peppard, Executive Director, BC Building Trades Council, at 604-291-9020 or cell 778-388-0014.

For David Fairey or John Calvert, call Sarah Leavitt, CCPA Communications Officer, at 604-801-5121 x233.

The study is available at www.policyalternatives or