Close friends of workers who died in a July 12 crane accident in Kelowna have launched a petition to pause construction of the highrise until a WorkSafe investigation is complete.
Salmon Arm’s Jason Wickner, a close friend of Eric Stemmer, one of two brothers killed, said it was a shock when the Mission Group, the development company building the 25-storey residential tower, issued a media release Friday, Oct. 22, stating that assembly of two tower cranes would begin Oct. 26 at two adjacent buildings.
The petition noted the Mission Group’s media release stated: “The safety deployment plan includes comprehensive procedures for crane assembly and dismantling, including operator qualifications and training.”
“To some,” stated the petition, “this implies that there was an absence of these measures in place under the management of the previously subcontracted crane company, when in fact, many construction companies in Kelowna came swiftly to the defence of the family-run business in the wake of the devastating news.”
Wickner said the investigators have not yet provided any information and he thinks it would be important to ascertain whether any site-specific conditions contributed to the collapse.
Wickner said the collapse was during a heat wave with a lot of factors going on.
“That should be taken into consideration to continue work, you would think,” he surmised.
A follow-up email from WorkSafeBC said that it still has jurisdiction and its investigation continues.
“All possible contributing factors will be looked at during the course of our investigation. Regarding a new crane being erected, we are working with the employer closely to ensure safety measures are in place related to the assembly of new cranes,” stated the email.
It said as each case is unique, no timeline for a report can be determined.
Wickner emphasized friends and family would also like to see a memorial on the worksite where the five men — Eric and Patrick Stemmer, Cailen Vilness, Jared Zook and Brad Zawislak — died. While the Mission Group has mentioned doing a memorial on-site, he’s not sure what could be done later on, other than a plaque or a bench.
“That’s not really adequate,” he said.
Wickner said someone posted an earlier petition wanting the tower cancelled and made into a green space.
He said he realizes that would be a bit extreme and a difficult ask with contracts and more in place, but something honouring the workers on the worksite should be created.
He said friends thought there would be time to sort something out, but then came the release about the cranes going up. Emails have been exchanged with the Mission Group, he added, but he isn’t sure what the company’s current stance is.
One more consideration Wickner mentioned is the mental health aspect of the crane collapse. He said a lot of people were affected by and connected to the accident. While he knows there is a phone number for workers and family members to call, “I’m unsure of the mental health of everyone in Kelowna, seeing the towers and seeing the cranes go up. I wonder how people working nearby would feel about that as well,” he said.
If you would like to read or sign the petition requesting a longer pause before cranes go back up on the site, go to you.leadnow.ca, “To: Mission Group – Honour and Respect the Fallen Workers of the Kelowna Crane Accident.”
In response to the petition, Mission Group said it is continuing to work with the victims’ families to determine what is permissible and appropriate to memorialize the five people who died. It also clarified that the two cranes are going up at the two abutting projects, not the one where the collapse happened.
This story was updated to include information provided by WorkSafeBC and Mission Group.