THIRTY-EIGHT years ago, on January 7, 1981, four men went to work building one of Downtown Vancouver’s most iconic highrises: the Bentall Centre Tower IV.
Those men never came home.
“Every year, we gather to remember the lives of carpenters Gunther Couvreux, Brian Stevenson, Donald Davis and Yrjo Mitrunen, who plunged 36 floors to their deaths when the fly form they were standing on collapsed,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades. “And every year, we are reminded that construction workers continue to die as a result of workplace trauma and exposure.
“Workplace safety must be made a priority.”
In the years since the Bentall tragedy, more than 1,000 construction workers have died in B.C. due to workplace trauma or disease. There were 32 work-related deaths in the construction industry last year. Of those, 10 were due to traumatic injury while 19 were due to asbestos-related disease and three were due to other disease (caused by silica dust and ammonia).
Sigurdson notes that one of the recommendations from the 1982 inquiry into the deaths of the four workers at the Bentall Centre was for compulsory safety training, yet construction workers continue to sustain an occupational fatality rate that is three times the provincial average.
“With the proper emphasis on safety, training, and enforcement, we can prevent worker deaths and injuries.”
Sigurdson was reflecting on the Bentall tragedy during the annual memorial event. Every year, representatives from the BC Building Trades, the labour movement, WorkSafeBC, the business community and local leaders join family members and the public to mark the deaths of the four construction workers who died on January 7, 1981. The memorial is an opportunity to remember the men who are so deeply missed, and to renew the call for stronger safety measures in the construction industry.
Participants placed wreaths at the Bentall Memorial plaque: 10 red roses for workers who died from trauma, and 22 white roses for workers who died from exposures and disease.
As of December 30, 2018, the import, sale and use of asbestos and the manufacture, import, sale and use of products containing asbestos is prohibited in Canada, with some exceptions. Although a long time coming, these new regulations will literally save lives, says Sigurdson.
“Asbestos is now a banned product in Canada,” he said. “For that, we can thank the workers who came before us, who suffered the consequences of asbestos exposure, their families and all the workplace health and safety advocates who fought so long and so hard for the rights of workers to be safe.”