Tag Archives: Dennis Allen

A Workplace Safety Culture Is Not Built With Shell Games !!

In the wake of the Karl Stunt fatality, Sunshine Village talked up its new commitment to worker safety.  However, a true commitment to workplace safety requires a fundamental good-faith management commitment to implement a real safety culture.  Workplace safety is not about Public Relations platitudes, its about consistent actions of corporate integrity and core values that always put the safety interests of workers FIRST!  It has to come from the top.  Talk is cheap and plentiful but don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do!

A shell game, also called Cups And Balls Trick,  is one of the oldest and most popular of the tricks traditionally performed by a conjurer. …The manipulative work is aided by the distracting conversation, or patter, of the conjurer. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

The idea is, no matter what anyone says or does to distract you, always try to keep your eye on where the ball is at all times!  It’s not always easy….

On January 30th, 2009 Sunshine Village was found guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

At the time, Doug Firby (Sunshine Village Associate Director, Communications, Media and Marketing) made a statement to the media: “This was a very, very sad situation,” Firby said of the incident, the first of its kind in the 80-year history of Sunshine Village. An independent safety audit recently determined that Sunshine’s current worker safety “is at a very high level,” he said, adding: “That’s still not good enough for us.”

Doug Firby

Firby said the company has hired another safety consultant to make sure that “everything is as good as it can possibly be. This has had a profound effect on the ownership and the staff at Sunshine. We want to make sure it never happens again.”

Well, that sounds inspiring and positive!  Lesson learned maybe?   But meanwhile, back on the ski hill…

The “safety consultant” referred to in Firby’s story was Dennis Allen , a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) who was contracted by Sunshine Village to help Sunshine Village pass a COR audit.

“In accepting the Code of Ethics, each CRSP pledges to subscribe not only to the letter but also to the spirit of the Code in all of their professional activities.”(emphasis added) ~ BCRSP Code of Ethics

Around the same time that  PR pointman Doug Firby was smoothly delivering his carefully scripted, post-judgement, damage-control “never again” message to the media, Ken Derpak (VP Operations & General Manager) was sending Ski Patrol staff onto the roofs of buildings after hours in known contravention of the Alberta Occupational Health & Safety Code Part 9 (Fall Protection) to shovel overhanging snow hazards and remove cornices. A small crew of Patrol staff agreed to do the job so that untrained, inexperienced staff did not get sent to do it.  The Patrollers were  already trained in rope rescue techniques and used these skills to provide some level of safety on the roofs  It was understood that this interim measure still failed to meet the Code but would give Sunshine Village an opportunity to become Code compliant.  The agreement with Derpak was that Patrol staff would do the job for the 08/09 winter season if Sunshine embarked on an ongoing program to install fall protection systems the following summer.

Now, keep your eye on that ball here…

In the midst of the court decision, safety audit and associated PR campaign an executive management decision was made about the rooftop snow shovelling safety code problem.   Ken Derpak apparently decided to create some “distance” between Sunshine Village Corporation and the workers he was sending up on the roofs.  Derpak set up an arrangement to pay them through Dennis Allen’s external safety consulting business.  Dennis Allen had nothing to do with planning the work, providing the workers or overseeing the job yet for some reason the Sunshine workers were paid through his business although in fact he had no direct contact with the Sunshine staff that suddenly got put on his payroll.    When the Patrol staff questioned the reason for this “policy” no reasonable explanation for the edict was given by Derpak but it was the way it would be.   Other than the paychecks issued, there was apparently no other formal “paper trail” generated.  No employment records, no pay statements, no T4s.  More notably Dennis Allen’s safety company, which was now “responsible” for ensuring the health & safety of the workers, did no hazard identification, no risk analysis, no written safe work plan and no training checklist.  The work went ahead, but it seemed like a strange way to be making sure everything was “as good as it can possibly be”.

Creating a safe and healthy workplace requires a commitment of time and money to create a culture and positive accountability system that makes safe work possible. It requires that the company create a safe work environment and set of safe behaviours that can be seen in not only the results (less injuries and illness) but be viewed in the process of work. Very safe companies not only have the documented process of creating safety, but they can demonstrate by the way they work that safety is the “way it is around here.” (Emphasis added) ~ Failure In Alberta” by Alan D. Quilley CRSP ( June 21, 2010)


A (Calgary)Herald investigation published in June (2010) found that between 2003 and 2007, the province rarely prosecuted companies for safety breaches linked to fatalities on the job. In April (2010), the (Alberta) auditor general criticized the government for inadequately cracking down on employers who repeatedly break safety laws.  The Alberta Federation of Labour wants the province to unveil a plan for more aggressive prosecutions. “Employers must be made to pay the price for putting the workers’ lives at risk, but this is still not being done,” Nancy Furlong of the Alberta Federation of Labour said. ~ Alberta employment minister vows ‘hammer’ will come down on workplace safety violators (Sept 03, 2010)

Even where a system was installed on the roof of the main Sunshine Mountain Lodge, it was improperly supervised and maintained. This photograph shows a synthetic lifeline negligently left out on the roof to be buried in snow and stretched by snow creep. This also evidences inadequate training and disregard for following documented safe work procedures.

Only a few months later, in the summer of 2009 when the new multi-million dollar wing of the Sunshine Mountain Lodge was built, there was no budget for a consultant recommended rooftop fall protection system. Sunshine Village boasted about its Banff Heritage Tourism Award for the new building but failed to prioritise installation of Code required worker safety systems during its construction.   John Scurfield (VP Marketing and part-owner) described the building as an example of the Scurfield family’s “latest commitment to excellence”. Whatever kind of excellence he’s referring to, it’s not workplace safety code compliance.   That wasn’t in the budget.

Two and a half years later, Sunshine Village has yet to install OH&S Code compliant fall protection systems on all but one Village buildings requiring rooftop snow and cornice removal.  Sunshine still places workers on roofs in known breach of the OH&S Code.  Meanwhile there has been a massive exodus of senior staff in safety related roles.  Despite Firby’s public promise that Sunshine “wants to make sure it never happens again” an internal Sunshine Village memo issued in summer 2010 (while $millions were being spent on the new Strawberry lift and Creekside renovation.) stated that; “Unfortunately there is no budget to continue installation of more fall protection on roofs at this time. ”  That’s a distinctly different message than the one Doug Firby was delivering to the media in January 2009.

On July 1, 2011, the Government of Alberta will tighten up the guidelines for obtaining and maintaing COR certification of Health & Safety Programs.  Let’s hope something changes because of it !  Workplace safety is a matter of urgent public interest and concern.  Parks Canada should make strict annual external COR audits a standard requirement for private corporations like Sunshine Village that hold operational leases in Canada’s national parks.  It’s time that all levels of government get serious about workplace safety and hold corporations accountable for action.    Workers are dying on the job in Alberta.  The Code is there for a reason This is no game!