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Safety Week looks to make tragedies a thing of the past

April 17, 2023  By Don Horne

Having joined Crane & Hoist Canada magazine a year ago, one of the first stories I encountered was that of Danielle Pritchett, who was mourning the needless death of her son on the Day of Mourning on April 28.

The tears have long since dried for Danielle Pritchett, but the pain remains.

It was back on July 12, 2021, when a construction crane came crashing down on her son, 24-year-old Cailen Vilness, killing the young man at a high-rise construction site in downtown Kelowna, B.C.

It was during last year’s Day of Mourning ceremony at Ben Lee Park in Kelowna, B.C. that Pritchett uttered these stark and heartfelt words as the keynote speaker:


“I died that day,” she said. “When I lost my son, I died. A piece of me died that day.”

After learning of the loss of her son that July day, it prompted Pritchett to share some troubling stories that he had told her about the various worksites he’d worked on over the years.

“He would tell me of the infractions he would see, of the pressure he received, even from his foreman, to do the work unsafely,” she told the crowd back in April.

The response to his concerns was not just a refusal to acknowledge the very real fears for the safety of others, but much more.

“He began to be ostracized by his coworkers. He was ostracized by his bosses, by the foreman, and by the company. He was even demoted in his duties on the job because he was pointing out unsafe work,” said Pritchett. “I’m not pointing fingers at anybody, but I am opening Pandora’s box so we can take a real hard look.”

She went on to call for changes to workplace culture, making safety a top priority without repercussions.

While the culture needs to be changed, much has changed regarding improving safety within the industry.

Take overhead cranes.

Years ago, operators were basically limited to the manufacturer’s instructions for operation of the equipment. Eventually, significant changes over the past 10 years to improve safety when operating this type of equipment were made, as industries across Canada got together, forming committees through occupational health and safety (OH&S), developing legislation to improve the safety for the operation, inspection and maintenance of this equipment.

It was also around this time that the Daily Operator Logbooks became mandatory, requiring operators to perform pre-operational, operational and shut-down checks, dated and signed off by the operator and supervisor at end of every shift.

Over the years, the legislated requirements have been revised to meet applicable recognized CSA B167-2016 Overhead Crane standards, as well as other applicable standards. All steps in the right direction. The introduction and lowered cost of radio remote controls and wireless systems have created a much safer working environment in and around overhead cranes.

BC Crane Safety, established in 2005, paved the way for a valid certificate to show that crane operators were properly qualified for the job.

“British Columbia’s crane owners, operators and employers came together in a big way to develop a unique certification program that has had a very positive impact on crane safety in the province,” stated Clinton Connell, BC Crane Safety’s executive director. “The program was developed by and for people directly involved with crane operations and was designed to be maintained and revised in light of industrial changes, new equipment and emerging technology.”

Much can be done to improve safety when both the industry and safety organizations work together.

As Safety Week grows nearer this May, let’s hope tragedies like the one suffered by Cailen Vilness never happens again.

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