Another Worker Run Over By a Snow Cat At Sunshine Village

Sadly it’s happened again!  Another worker has been run over by a snow cat at Sunshine Village.  It’s not the first time.  It’s also just the latest in an ongoing litany of serious public and workplace safety incidents at Sunshine Village Ski Resort.

A snow groomer machine similar to those used at Sunshine Village

The Rocky Mountain Outlook has reported that on Friday (May 16, 2014) a 25-year old male employee fell from the rear deck of a snow groomer and was run over by the machine.

The Calgary Herald reports the following statement was issued by Alberta Occupational Health & Safety.

“A snow cat operator was performing grooming duties on the lower park area at about 4 a.m. and some workers were riding outside on the deck of the grooming machine,” Lisa Glover, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety spokeswoman, said in an email.  “One of those workers (on the deck) fell off and was run over by the snowcat.”

Neither the media, Sunshine Village nor OH&S have mentioned the fact that this is not the first time a worker has been run over by a snowcat at Sunshine Village.  In the last incident of this type a young female worker attempted to jump from an operating snowcat and was seriously injured when it ran over her.

On a standard snow groomer there is no secure position on the outside rear deck for a passenger to ride safely.  According to OH&S statement there was more than one worker riding on the outside of the machine and the groomer was actively working in the terrain park at the time.  The injured worker is an employee of the on-site food and beverage contractor Aramark.  He was transported to Banff Mineral Springs Hospital and then flown to Foothills Hospital in Calgary and is apparently in stable condition.  He’s very lucky he’s not dead and certainly it was only luck saved him from that fate.

Ten Years Since Fatal Workplace Accident at Sunshine Village

Karl Stunt - Young worker killed on the job at Sunshine Village in 2004.  Has anything changed since?

Karl Stunt – Young worker killed on the job at Sunshine Village in 2004. Has anything changed since?

This latest serious incident comes almost 10 years after the fatal workplace accident that took the life of Sunshine Village employee Karl Stunt.  As a result of that 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 as a legacy to Stunt. 

In 2010 Sunshine Village paid a fortune in legal fees to successfully overturn the guilty verdict for Stunt’s death.  Sunshine’s  spokesperson Doug Firby stated that Stunt’s fatality “had a profound effect on the ownership and the staff at Sunshine. We want to make sure it never happens again.”   At much the same time however Sunshine Village was intentionally breaching the OH&S Fall Protection Code.  The legacy donation was also overturned.  Sunshine subsequently made a smaller donation to Selkirk College but failed to mention Karl Stunt or workplace safety.

A Workplace Safety Record That Speaks For Itself

There are simply too many serious workplace and/or public safety incidents at Sunshine Village.  Since the Karl Stunt fatality hearings there have been many examples including: A new employee left trapped on the shut-down 5 km gondola in freezing temperatures and only survived because someone heard his faint cries for help; a new security employee working alone nearly died after-hours on a snowmobile, another employee was hit and thrown from a platform by an accelerating gondola cabin.  Last spring a roof on the hotel suddenly avalanched onto guests below causing injuries.  This season an avalanche within the ski area boundary buried two guests. And in March 2012 a massive avalanche hit the Sunshine access road forcing Parks Canada to prohibit Sunshine’s ad-hoc parking operation in the vicinity.  Despite the obvious hazard Sunshine took Parks Canada to court attempting to have the safety-driven prohibition lifted so that customer’s cars could again be parked there.

Sunshine’s overall workplace safety record hit an all time low in 2011.  The latest stats released in 2014 (below) show a marginal statistical improvement but still a shamefully dismal record with a disabling injury rate at Sunshine Village that is just shy of TWICE the industry average and almost FIVE times greater than the provincial average. In the most recent annual statistics available Sunshine Village accounted for 30% of the disabling injuries in the Ski Resorts and Gondolas industry category.  That category includes a total of 57 other employers.

SSV OHS 2012 stats

Sunshine Village Workplace Safety statistics – dismally shameful. (Click to enlarge)

The Legal Duty To Protect Worker’s Safety

Ralph Scurfield - President of Sunshine Village - has a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all workers at Sunshine Village.

Ralph Scurfield – President of Sunshine Village – has a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all workers at Sunshine Village.

These are not isolated and unfortunate accidents. They are repetitive examples of an ineffectual workplace safety culture that is in a tail-spin and the statistics confirm it is a systemic management failure.   Sunshine has a tendency to blame its workers rather than look to its senior management team and culture.  Ten years after the Karl Stunt fatality there is simply no excuse anymore. The buck stops with Sunshine’s majority shareholder, president and CEO Ralph Scurfield  and the entire senior management team which has a legal duty to protect the health and safety of the young, transient, low-paid workers they hire from all over the world, who then come to work in Banff National Park expecting a world-standard safe workplace.

The duty, and the consequences for failing to perform this duty, have been enshrined, though rarely applied, in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Corporations are operated by senior officers who are responsible for establishing policies and managing the work to be done.  Those officers who undertake or have the authority to direct how work is done are under a legal duty to take reasonable steps towards protecting people from bodily harm. If senior officers do not carry out their duty according to their role in the company and act with a wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of employees
and others, the corporation and the officers may be guilty of criminal negligence

 

(Excerpted from A Criminal Code offence – Death and Injury at Work - A guide to investigating corporate criminal negligence in the event of a serious injury or fatality in a workplace).

It’s ten years since Stunt was killed on the job at Sunshine Village.  If Sunshine Village’s workplace safety record since that day is deemed indicative of “reasonable steps” to protect its workers then the standard that is being applied falls far short of the one that is needed.

Where is the Alberta Government and Alberta Workplace Safety ?

The Alberta Government talks a lot about workplace safety but its record is consistently lackluster.  Alberta OH&S has repeatedly failed to protect workers or respond diligently to worker concerns.  Despite a high profile workplace fatality at Sunshine Village and the subsequent legal battle, which the government eventually walked away from;  And despite the fact that Sunshine employs hundreds of vulnerable young, non-union and, in many cases foreign, transient workers, Alberta OH&S has taken a superficial and ineffective response to the on-going series of major incidents.   The law is ineffectual if it is not applied.

Call For Action

Despite all the empty promises, all the management spin, all the government hot air, all the high-priced lawyers and all the time wasted – has anything really changed to better protect young workers at Sunshine Village since Karl Stunt’s death?  It’s time someone stepped up to the plate to do something.  The incident rate is too high.  If Alberta OH&S can’t enforce workplace safety at Sunshine Village then maybe it’s time for a union to step in and bring some collective muscle to the problem.

Meanwhile Sunshine Village spokesperson Tanya Otis has stated in the media that  “Our thoughts are with this individual, his family and friends, and we hope for a speedy recovery.”   They are nice words indeed, but it’s a predictable spokesperson-type platitude and it’s not good enough.  It is long past time (10 years at least) that Sunshine Village stopped “hoping” for the recovery of its injured young workers and instead act to substantively decrease the rate at which workers get injured.  Workers don’t recover from being killed on the job and in this incident, avoiding that result was just pure luck.  Now the glaring question remains – will the next one be so lucky?

 Note:  An invitation has been extended to Sunshine Village’s legal counsel to provide a comment on this story.  At the time of publication none had been received.  Sunshine Village Watch welcomes any response from the company.  This page will be updated if a comment from Sunshine Village or its lawyers is made available for publication.

Update (May 30, 2014):

Sunshine Village was invited to respond to this story.  On Friday May 30, 2014 the following one-line response was received from Sunshine Village’s legal counsel Frank Molnar of Calgary law firm Field Law.

“The article is defamatory and you publish it and similar articles at your peril.”

L. Frank Molnar, QC, MIR

Field Law LLP

Mr. Molnar has been asked to identify his areas of concern in the above commentary. Any further comments or response will be updated here.

Access Road Parking – Avalanche Path Public Safety Decision by Federal Court

In December 2012, Sunshine Village Corporation filed an application for an injunction against Parks Canada.  The application sought to overturn Parks Canada’s public safety prohibition regarding Sunshine’s parking operations in the vicinity of the large avalanche paths along the access road, including the avalanche path that hit the road in March 2012.

Sunshine’s application was denied by the Federal Court for reasons of public safety and the public interest.

The December 21, 2012 decision of the Federal Court may be found here.

This video (below) shows the disputed area of road hit by the March 2012 avalanche and the location of Sunshine’s previous parking operations in the avalanche path.

Post-avalanche clean up of road(below). The area of avalanche debris in front of the loader is an area where parking had been permitted prior to the Parks Canada prohibition.

This video (below) shows the congestion and public safety issues caused by Sunshine’s parking operations elsewhere on the access road.

Sunshine Village Roof Avalanche Takes Down Guests

LAST SATURDAY A LARGE ROOF AVALANCHE TOOK DOWN GUESTS RELAXING ON A PATIO AT THE SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN LODGE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK.

It’s not the first time that the Sunshine Mountain Lodge has experienced large damaging roof avalanches.  If the lessons from past incidents had been learned and applied, the latest incident could easily have been avoided.  Rooftop snow removal is not rocket science, it’s basic routine safety management.

On March 16, 2013 an unknown number of Sunshine Village guests were relaxing on the patio outside the Chimney Corner restaurant when suddenly and without warning they were hit by a large avalanche of snow and ice from above.  The incident occurred when a large load of accumulated snow slid off a roof at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge and hit and partially buried the guests who had no time to run or protect themselves.

The Sunshine Mountain Lodge showing the new Chimney Corner roof that avalanched onto guests.

The Sunshine Mountain Lodge showing the new Chimney Corner roof that avalanched onto guests.

Initial reports indicate that none of the guests was seriously injured, but at least one or more required medical treatment.  It could have been worse.

The Sunshine Mountain Lodge has a history of potentially deadly incidents involving large snow slides from roofs and overhanging snow cornices collapsing.  Prior to last Saturday’s incident, the roof avalanches had only caused property damage.  Sunshine Village’s management had been warned in the past that failure to competently manage this type of hazard could very forseeably lead to injuries or even fatalities.  Sunshine failed to heed those warnings in the past, which resulted in documented property damage.   Unfortunately the warnings were also not sufficient to prevent the latest incident either.   

Since at least 2009, rooftop snow removal and related fall protection for workers has been a significant public and workplace safety issue at Sunshine Village.  In 2009 Sunshine Village obtained four separate external consultant proposals for installation of fall protection systems to enable workers to safely remove rooftop snow hazards.  One proposal was chosen but for reasons of insufficient budget the proposal was only partially implemented.

That same year, Sunshine Village added a multi-million dollar new wing to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  When installation of a rooftop fall protection was recommended the then GM and VP of Operations Ken Derpak stated that there was no budget for installing fall protection systems on the multi-million dollar new building.  A system was installed on the original hotel roof but during the 2009/10 season the hazard was mismanaged by Sunshine Village and eventually resulted in at least two documented incidents and major property damage.  Despite the obvious need to implement a fully comprehensive control program, Sunshine Village subsequently issued a memo confirming that there was no budget for further fall protection systems.  It is unclear if that budget restriction has since changed but regardless, the incidents keep coming.

Sunshine recently renovated the Chimney Corner restaurant.  The renovation resulted in a new roofline and a new rooftop accumulation of snow.  It’s clear that this created a hazard similar to that which caused the previous incidents and this time the consequences of that hazard impacted Sunshine’s guests, literally.

Last Saturday’s incident proves beyond doubt that Sunshine Village must implement an effective public safety program to control all rooftop snow hazards at the resort. The program must include fully code-compliant engineered fall protection systems, competency-based training and competent supervision for the workers who are sent up on the roofs to do the job.  Bottom line, this incident is unacceptable in a Canadian national park  that prides itself on its public safety record and international reputation as a world class destination.

ROOF AVALANCHE HITS GUESTS AT SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN LODGE. Last Saturday snow on this roof slid onto the deck and into the hot tub, hitting and injuring guests. Sunshine’s management has been previously warned that a failure to manage this type of hazard would result in injuries or even fatalities. (Photo from Sunshine Village Google+)

This photo from Sunshine Village’s Google+ page shows the recently renovated Chimney Corner restaurant. Last Saturday this roof shed it’s snowload without warning onto unsuspecting guests.

Sunshine Village’s Response:

Sunshine Village Watch contacted Sunshine’s lawyer to provide the company a 24-hour pre-publication opportunity (extended to 48 hours) to comment on this story and/or to dispute the information provided.  Here is the company’s responses (edited for relevance):

Prima facie your allegations are defamatory, including those of “a history of potentially deadly incidents”,  “negligent mismanagement”,” failure to heed warnings”, “repeatedly ignoring safety warnings”, etc.You publish this material at your peril. Our client objects to publication of this story and reserves all rights in relation thereto. Be advised that your mere 24 hour time for response will be relied upon by Sunshine as evidence of malice on your part.

… for the record Sunshine Village denies the allegations you propose to make in your story.  Your proposed sub head is inflammatory and it appears that you are taking advantage of one incident to paint an unfair picture of the company.  Sunshine Village is committed to safe facilities for the benefit of guests and workers.

L. Frank Molnar, MIR

Field Law LLP

Further comments by Sunshine Village will be published here if received.

Other Sunshine Mountain Lodge safety posts:

Did you witness this incident?  Do you have additional information, photos or video?  If so please contact Sunshine Village Watch.

Meanwhile, the following video (not from Sunshine Village) demonstrates the harm even a small roof avalanche can do: