Tag Archives: Calgary Herald

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.

Public Safety and the 2010 Opening Day Incident

A cautionary tale about how two simple errors and an unforeseen chain of events can have significant safety consequences and what the lesson implies for public safety in Banff National Park.

One of the regulatory requirements for operators of aerial ski lifts is that each lift must have a back-up drive in ready, operating condition.  The prime mover, or engine that normally drives the lift can fail.  If it fails it immediately strands the passengers on the lift who are suspended in the freezing air.  Even at reasonably moderate winter temperatures, the threat of hypothermia is real under such a circumstance.  So the regulatory standards require that each lift have an auxiliary motor capable of promptly moving a fully-loaded lift until all passengers have safely unloaded.

As a last resort, in the event that the lift cannot be moved at all, a rope rescue is required. Rescue personnel lower the passengers to the ground.  In the case of Sunshine Village it is not just a lift safety regulation that adequately trained and competent rescuers be available, it is also a requirement of the company’s lease agreement with Parks Canada.

On Opening Day 2010, Sunshine Village was proudly opening its new Strawberry quad chair for the first time.  Everything was ready, or so it seemed. Eager guests rushed to ride the new high-speed lift.  Only an hour after the season started and the lift opened, a new power transformer with an incorrect connection exploded in the parking lot and power supply  failed at every lift and building on the mountain.  All the lifts stopped dead including the fully loaded Strawberry Express and the 5km long gondola.

Very quickly it became clear that the power supply would not be restored promptly.  The gondola and other lifts began to run on auxillary.  The Strawberry Express did not.  Neither did  the Standish chairlift which, although it was not yet open to the public, did have Sunshine  trail crew  and ski patrol employees on the lift.

As the minutes ticked by lift staff discovered that the fuel tanks for the auxiliary motors had not been filled prior to opening to the public.  Suddenly a relatively simple problem had just become much more complicated.  Most transportation equipment emergencies are the result of multiple causes combining to exceed safety and response capabilities.  Now, only an hour into the new season, Sunshine Village staff were faced with a fully loaded lift and no way to move it.   Employees scrambled to transport the necessary fuel to the lifts, fill the tanks and start the auxiliary motors.  All that took time.  Meanwhile, Sunshine Village’s paying guest hung on the chairs in the freezing air, and so did the employees on Standish.

In accordance with the written emergency response procedures, ski patrol evacuation teams  were positioned at designated locations on the Strawberry lift line to prepare for a last resort rope evacuation.  Eventually however the shiny new addition to Sunshine’s fleet of “super-lifts” began running and an hour after the initial failure all the public were clear of the lift.  Shortly afterwards some very cold employees were finally clear of the Standish lift.

The point of this article is not to point fingers at any individual or department.  Mistakes happen.  In fact, mistakes should be expected and anticipated.  No-one is perfect.  “Human error” is the root cause of most disasters despite even the best efforts of highly trained and competent safety personnel.   The point is that a series of simple oversights and an unforeseen chain of events can lead to a life-safety emergency.  On a ski hill this kind of thing can arise in a hundred different ways  and despite the best efforts of trained and experienced employees, sometimes these things do happen.  In fact they happen more often that the public realizes.  Only occasionally does the incident even make the news, as it did with the Whistller gondola incident in 2008.

When emergency incidents happen in the mountains, minutes make a difference.  The critical factor is the availability of a sufficiently trained and experienced team of responders.  Earlier this year, the Calgary Herald reported on an exchange of communications between Sunshine Village and Parks Canada in which Parks Canada formally complained to Sunshine Village that the company had failed to meet the safety response requirements of its lease when it operated with a greatly reduced ski patrol presence on January 19, 2011.  On that day a large number of ski patrollers did not report for work for reasons related to the firing of yet another ski patroller and concerns about safety.

Sunshine responded to Parks Canada and very quickly the whole matter was swept under the carpet.  Apparently all was well in paradise.  But was it really?  What concerns did Parks Canada raise?  What claims did Sunshine Village make in response? To what extent did Sunshine Village push the safety capability envelope that day?  And to what extent did Parks Canada ensure that the claims made by Sunshine Village were in fact valid and sufficient to meet the lease obligation, not just on paper but in real-world public safety response capability?

If the 2010 Opening Day lift incident had happened on January 19, 2011 instead, would Sunshine Village have been capable of responding adequately to protect the safety of its customers and employees?

Sunshine Village Watch has obtained copies of all  the communications between then Parks Superintendent Kevin Van Tighem and then Sunshine VP of Operations and acting Mountain Manager, Ken Derpak.

Parks Canada has a prime obligation to protect the life and safety of each park visitor.  In this respect, Parks Canada has a fundamental regulatory obligation to ensure commercial operators meet the safety and response provisions of their lease obligations not simply on the basis of semantics but on the basis of real life response capability.

This is an issue regarding the provision of public safety services by commercial operators in Canada’s national parks.  It is also an issue about the diligence of Parks Canada in ensuring that the lease obligations of those operators are being met and that the lease provisions are sufficient to ensure that people are in fact as safe as possible when they visit a commercial operation in the park.  In the end, the buck stops with Parks Canada and the federal government.  Are they doing their job?

It is improbable that the power transformer connection and auxiliary fuel tank oversights will combine and re-occur.  The real question is what will be the next chain of events that lead to a public safety incident and is Parks Canada and Sunshine Village fully prepared for it?


RCMP to Limit Access to Moraine Lake to Head off Traffic Chaos

Most people associate the Rockies with peaceful vistas and serenity — not RVs and buses snarled in gridlock.

But police are warning that traffic and parking chaos on the road to a popular Banff National Park hiking area could result in another weekend of intermittent closures.

So many visitors descended on the region that police were forced to temporarily close Moraine Lake Road. Mounties say the parking lot was over capacity, with cars, buses and RVs backed up for several kilometres.

At one point there was no access for several hours, as RCMP officers stopped vehicles until others left the parking lot. Police wanted to make sure they could get ambulances through in case of an emergency, said Cpl. Jeff Campbell.

“We’re doing it for public safety reasons, because there’s so much traffic and we also want to make sure visitor enjoyment is at a premium, with as little frustration as possible,” Campbell said.

via Calgary Herald | RCMP may limit access to Moraine Lake to head off traffic chaos.

This is the Sunshine Access Road during Christmas Week 2010
It’s at the top of a steep slippery bend in the road – one of the worst sections.
The picture shows Sunshine Village staff  trying to park cars 8km from the gondola base.

How long would it take to clear the pedestrians, back up the car and bus and
get an emergency ambulance through here?