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



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