Tag Archives: worker rights

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.

Shameful Workplace Injury Increase at Sunshine Village

Latest government statistics indicate that lost-time workplace accidents at Sunshine Village have doubled.  It’s a shocking and very worrying trend, but is anyone doing anything about it?

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Lost-Time Claim (LTC) workplace injuries at Sunshine Village doubled in 2011 according to the Government of Alberta website that tracks the rate at which Alberta employers injure their workers.  In 2010 the number of claims was seven (7).  In 2011 that number leaped to fourteen (14).  That’s an unacceptable increase.

Last year Sunshine Village was solely responsible for over 25% of all lost-time workplace accidents for the entire Alberta ski resort and gondola industry.  And that’s in an industry that already has a way-above-average rate of claims.  During the same period the company had considerably more than double the LTC rate for all employers in all Alberta industries. And that is in a province with one of the worst workplace safety records in Canada.  Is anyone at Work Safe Alberta paying attention?

It’s the second year in a row that Sunshine Village’s LTC rate has dramatically increased over the year before, which is a solid indication that workplace safety trends at Sunshine Village may be spiraling out of control and going consistently in the wrong direction.  2011 is a 5-year high.  That can only be bad for workers and it’s a shameful statistic for a company that only two years ago hyped its intention to take all steps possible to avoid another workplace fatality.

The rapid rise in lost-time claims is only the tip of the iceberg because many of Sunshine Village’s workplace accidents never get reported or recorded in the government statistics. Injured workers are given “modified work” which keeps them on the payroll and avoids triggering a lost-time claim.  This serves to keep the true workplace injury rate out of the public view, a fact that serves the PR spin-machine of the both employer and the government.

If the Government of Alberta was truly transparent about workplace safety and injury rates in the province, it would require companies like Sunshine Village to disclose and report not just lost-time claims but also incidents resulting in modified work, treatment and return to work and close-calls.  The guaranteed reality is that even though there were 14 lost-time claims reported for Sunshine Village in 2011, many more employees were injured on the job there last year.

Sunshine Village received a Certificate of Recognition in 2008. This qualifies the company for government financial incentives but more importantly it is supposed to make the workplace safer for employees.  It takes more than a piece of paper and a rubber stamp to make that happen.  Sunshine Village has always claimed that it makes workplace safety a “top priority”.  These statistics show that so-called management priority to be an epic management failure.  When it comes to workplace safety, Sunshine Village just plain sucks !

Workers have a basic right to safe and healthy workplaces.  It is up to the government to make certain that right is upheld.  There are no excuses.  The Government of Alberta has recently promised to review the COR status of employers with a poor safety performance.  This pitiful trend from an employer with a worker fatality on the books and a lot of hot air in the media should be a major red flag for Work Safe Alberta - that is if they are paying attention to their own statistics.

Dave Riley – Sunshine Village’s newly minted COO – says he’s going to make safety a focus. We will see. It’s at least a positive thing that he recognizes the urgent problem but let’s hope he can walk his talk because we’ve heard it all before from his predecessor.  Meanwhile the statistics don’t lie.  Enough talk Dave, the honeymoon is over!  Get on with it – It’s time for some action.

Lost-Time Claim statistics - Sunshine Village

 

 

Payroll Audit Favours Sunshine Employees

A number of current and former employees of Sunshine Village received unexpected, but very welcome and long overdue cheques this Fall following a payroll audit.

 Sunshine Village was investigated by Alberta Employment Standards earlier in the year as the result of a complaint.  The complaint has resulted in changes for Sunshine Village’s payroll practices.  An unknown number of current and former employees received backpay that in some individual cases amounted to hundreds of dollars.  Cheques have reportedly been received by former employees as far away as Australia.  The correction payments were accompanied by a letter from Sunshine Village that did not explain why the errors had been made nor how far back the payroll errors were accounted for.  Sunshine did not include interest on the payments, which collectively amounted to thousands of dollars.

Sunshine Village Watch recommends that all employees keep personal records of their work time and payroll.  This situation proves that the company’s electronic payroll system and administration is subject to major errors that, if not caught and resolved, result in earnings losses for employees who can least afford them.

Alberta Employment Standards regulations can be found at the agency’s website.  Complaints for employer breach of the regulations can also be lodged online.  A successful result is more easily achieved with good documentation that clearly establishes any problems due to rounding or other policies.  Employment Standards has ordered Sunshine Village to adopt new rounding standards that favour the employee rather than the company.

Sunshine Village Watch considers this worker rights issue to be ongoing.  Employees should not take it for granted that their payroll is correct.  Particular attention should be given to statutory holiday pay, rounding of hours and overtime (especially when working for two different departments).  This matter is just one more example of the need for close scrutiny of Sunshine Village’s compliance with employment regulations.  Low income and minimum wage earners need and deserve every dollar that is owed to them by their employer.