A Young Worker’s Life Under Rug Swept!

Sunshine Village donates $50,000 to Selkirk College but forgets to mention worker killed on the job.

Karl Stunt – Killed on the job at Sunshine Village – August 31, 2004

Karl Stunt was killed on the job at Sunshine Village on August 31, 2004.  He was one of the all too many workers who are killed on the job in Alberta every year.  As a result of the workplace fatality Sunshine Village Corporation was found guilty of failing to ensure the health & safety of its workers.  Sunshine Village was fined and ordered to pay an additional $250,000 to Selkirk College in BC .  This endowment was intended to honour the memory of Karl Stunt and to raise awareness of workplace safety amongst students in the Ski Resort Operations and Management Program.

Sunshine Village Corporation put its lawyers to work and in 2010 succesfully appealed the decision claiming it could not have foreseen the incident.  That contraversial finding was never tested as Alberta Employment and Immigration mistakenly chose not to continue with the case.  Sunshine paid it’s lawyers but chose at the time not to proceed with the endowment.

Because the scholarship was part of the original conviction and sentence, which has now been overturned, ski hill operators aren’t obligated to go ahead with it, resort spokesman, Doug Firby, said Sunday.Alberta ski lift worker’s ‘legacy’ lost: family” (CBC – August 2, 2010)

Karl’s father – Bill Stunt – expressed his sadness and dissapointment at the time.  “It’s the one small thing that we had out of this almost six-year process was some kind of legacy for Karl in a way that … could have done some good for some other person in his circumstance working in the ski industry,” he said.

On May 17, 2011 Sunshine Village announced a donation to Selkirk College of $50,000.  The mainstream media picked up the feed and parrotted it.  Only the Rocky Mountain Outlook drew the connection (see clipping below) and noted that not only was the endowment but a fraction of the original court-ordered payment but that also there was absolutely no mention of Karl Stunt, whose life it was originally intended to honour.

A belated and paltry $50,000 is better than nothing, but compared to a life it’s not much.  Sadly though the ski management graduates of the Selkirk program will not learn of that lost life and the safety awareness cause originally intended as the endowment’s purpose.  Sunshine Village has killed that opportunity it seems.   Maybe, seven years after Stunt’s death,  that’s just the way Sunshine Village wants it.

The Hotel Cornice Hazard

In the summer of 2009 a new roof was installed on the main building of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  That same summer at the insistence of Mountain Operations safety staff, a fall protection and work positioning system was also installed to enable Lodge staff to safely remove snow from the roof of the building during the winter.

In the fall of 2009, selected Lodge staff members, including Sunshine Mountain Lodge manager Bill Cutt, were trained on the new fall protection system.  The task of managing snow removal on the roof of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge was then assigned to Cutt and his staff.

During the 09/10 winter season, the snow on the roof accumulated and was not removed on a sufficiently regular basis.  As the snow accumulated, wind caused a large threatening cornice to form on the rear edge of the roof.  As the warmer weather  arrived in the spring, this cornice grew even larger and began to creep.  It became an obvious hazard to anyone working below.

This huge cornice overhung the entire rear area of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  This is an area that is used by staff to access stored firewood.  In addition, two fire stairwells exit to the rear of the Lodge, including the main central staircase.  The exterior landing of the main fire stairwell is the area designated for staff to go to smoke during breaks.  The cornice also overhung the access route to the water treatment plant.  Utilities workers had to access the treatment plant at least daily.  To do so required walking and standing fully exposed right underneath the cornice.  The rear of the Lodge is also directly adjacent to the “Waterfall” ski run which is used by members of the public.

As the cornice continued to grow and the hazard was clearly not being addressed, Mountain Operations safety staff warned Ken Derpak (VP of Operations and GM) and SSV Safety Officer Dorothy Gould that the cornice could suddenly collapse and cause damage, personal injury and even death.  Despite these warnings, the hazard remained.

Eventually and inevitably a large piece of the cornice fell.  Fortunately no one was under it when it came down.  It hit an HVAC system mounted on the exterior of the building and destroyed it.   The force of the impact opened up the exterior wall of the building so that it was possible to see daylight from the inside through the ceiling of the Lodge kitchen.  This was a classic “close call” situation.

A “close call” or accident without injury is easy to shrug off and forget. But, there is a danger in brushing off accidents that don’t hurt, harm or damage. When a “close call” happens, it should immediately send up a red warning flag that something was wrong, unplanned, unexpected, and could happen again. The next time it happens, it could result in serious damage, injury or death. ~ Take a Close Look at Close Calls

Even though a large peice of the cornice had come down, most of it still remained.  Despite the obvious “close call” and clear consequences of ignoring the hazard, again nothing was done to remove it.  Ski patrol staff who had already made an issue of the hazard then went up on the roof to demonstrate how to remove the cornice with shovels.  Lodge staff were finally sent onto the roof to break portions of the cornice off.  However they were not adequatley supervised and did not do the job properly and a considerable amount of snow and cornice hazard remained.

Finally, in the last week of the season, in warm weather in the middle of the day, the remaining cornice and the entire remaining snowload on the new metal roof suddenly and completely slid off in one huge avalanche of snow and ice.  It deposited all along the back of the Lodge and hit the roof of the water treatment plant, crushing it and causing significant property damage.

Fortunately again, no one was in the way at the time, though the area was still being accessed by staff for work purposes.  Staff were even still being told to go to the back of the Lodge if they wished to smoke.  It was simply luck that no one was there at the time.

SSV Management seemed to get the message and promised the hazard would be managed properly with regular snow removal in the 2010/11 season.  However, despite the obvious consequences demonstrated by the two incidents in the spring of 2010, the same hazard was allowed to form yet again in the spring of 2011.

As an employer regulated by the Alberta OH&S Act, it is Sunshine Village‘s legal duty to identify and control hazards in the workplace.  This should be a management priority at all times.  Due diligence and adherence to basic principles of hazard identification and control saves worker’s lives.

The Act says that you, as an employer, must do everything you reasonably can to protect the health and safety of your workers. This means that you must do a hazard assessment of your work site and take effective measures to control the hazards identified.” – Employer’s Guide Occupational Health and Safety Act

Rooftop Fall Protection

“The four most frequent types of fatal incidents involve being struck by an object, being caught in or between objects, industrial vehicle incidents and falling from an elevation”. – When Accidents Happen (Alberta Venture Magazine)

In June 2010, following Sunshine Village’s successful appeal of its conviction for failing to ensure the health & safety of its workers, OH&S Canada Magazine reported the following statements made by Doug Firby, Associate Director of Communications, Media and Marketing for Sunshine Village.

“With the benefit of hindsight you can look back and imagine how you could have foreseen it,” Firby says. “But we didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.

Still, Firby reports, “We’ve brought in an individual occupational health and safety expert who’s done an audit of our entire operation and come up with more than a hundred recommendations, most of which have already been implemented.”

Although Sunshine Village is willing to go beyond what is mandated by legislation to protect its workers, “I think it would be very hard, unless you were just engaging in a ‘what-if ‘ exercise, to actually imagine this sort of accident happening,” Firby argues.

  • For years Sunshine Village has been sending staff onto the roofs of buildings to shovel off snow with little or no fall protection.
  • In 2009, Sunshine safety personnel reminded Ken Derpak (VP of Operations & GM) in no uncertain terms that on every roof at Sunshine Village, the company was non-compliant with Part 9 (Fall Protection) of the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Code 2009.
  • Four separate external consultant reports and bids were obtained to install code-compliant fall protection and work positioning systems on roofs of buildings, to protect the lives of workers sent onto the roofs to shovel snow.
  • These expert reports and bids, which identified some immediate safety deficiencies, were presented to Ken Derpak (VP Operations and GM).
  • In the late summer of 2009 a fall protection system was installed only on the roof of the main Sunshine Mountain Lodge and the roof of the Goat’s Eye gondola building.
  • Consultant recommendations for all other roofs were not followed and despite the fact that it was constructed that same year, even the new wing of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge did not include a fall protection system.
  • Ken Derpak  stated that remaining roofs would be progressivly brought up to code in 2010 and subsequent summers, or that alternative snow removal methods would be found to avoid placing workers in danger.
  • During the winter season of 2009/10,  workers were again placed on roofs with inadequate fall protection and, in some cases, rooftop snow hazards were mismanaged.
  • In May 2010, a major rooftop snowfall incident caused extensive property damage at the back of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, but fortunately no person was in the way to be hurt or killed.
  • Sunshine Village’s executive management is aware of the Alberta OH&S Code requirements pertaining to fall protection.
  • Sunshine Village’s executive management is aware of the 2009 fall protection expert consultant reports and reccomendations.
  • In 2010, Sunshine Village won on appeal of its conviction for the Karl Stunt fatality and saved itself $255,000 in court-ordered OH&S sanctions. $250,000 was to have gone to a memorial educational scholarship to further safety awareness in the ski industry.  Sunshine kept it.
  • In the summer of 2010 Sunshine Village spent millions of dollars on the installation of the new Strawberry Express lift and the renovation of the Creekside building at Bourgeau.
  • Despite plenty of money for lawyers, lift and building construction, in 2010 Sunshine Village did not install one new piece of fall protection safety equipment on the roofs identified in the 2009 consulting reports.
  • In June 2010 Doug Firby publically boasted that Sunshine Village is “willing to go beyond what is mandated by legislation to protect its workers“.
  • In July 2010 Sunshine prepared a contradictory internal document declaring that “Unfortunately there is no budget to continue installation of more fall protection on roofs at this time“.  The same document assigned departmental responsibilities for rooftop snow removal in the 2010/11 season.

It does not take much imagination or Doug Firby’s elusive “what if” excercises to understand the reasons for the existence of Part 9 of the OH&S Code.  The Code reflects, and attempts to prevent, a tragic increasing toll of worker injuries and fatalities.  Falls from elevation was noted as one of the top four reasons for worker fatalities in 2006.

In 2011, workers are still being sent onto roofs at Sunshine Village in the absence of code-compliant fall protection systems.  The following images were captured via a Sunshine Village webcam in March 2011.  They show a worker on the roof of the Old Ski Lodge (OSL) building in breach of multiple provisions of Part 9 of the Alberta OH&S Code.

The 2009 quote to bring the OSL roof system up to OH&S code compliance was a small fraction of the money Sunshine Village saved itself in OH&S sanctions for the Karl Stunt conviction.

Imagine that!

Snow Removal Worker on OSL Roof – March 20, 2011

It’s time for concerted and co-ordinated government action on workplace safety. Sunshine Village Watch recommends that Parks Canada, as a condition of all future renewals of leases in Canada’s national parks, require strict, audited OH&S compliance and a proven commitment to best industry workplace safety practices in all aspects of a leaseholder’s operations.

If a company can’t afford to make worker safety a continuous priority then it should not be provided with the privilege to operate in a Canadian national park.