Tag Archives: Karl Stunt

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)

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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!

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.

OSL roof clearing header

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.