As criminal case looms, Kiewit bids on 2 major B.C. projects

Contractor on shortlisted teams for Pattullo Bridge replacement, highway improvements in Delta

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Bethany Lindsay | CBC News  | Jun 04, 2019

Sam Fitzpatrick, left, was killed by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite in 2009. His younger brother Arlen, right, watched it happen. (Christine Tamburri)

The B.C. government is staying close-lipped on the news that a frequent provincial contractor is facing a criminal charge in the death of a worker.

Peter Kiewit Sons Co. was named in an indictment sworn Friday in provincial court, charged with criminal negligence causing death in relation to the 2009 rockfall that killed Sam Fitzpatrick near Toba Inlet on B.C.’s Central Coast. 

Provincial spokespeople declined to respond to CBC’s questions about whether the charge will be taken into account when Kiewit bids on future government projects.

“It would be inappropriate for government to comment as the matter is before the courts,” the Ministry of the Attorney General wrote in an email.

Kiewit is part of the shortlisted teams selected to bid on two large B.C. infrastructure projects: the $1.377-billion replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and the Highway 91/17 upgrades in Delta. In the past, the company has been contracted for projects including development of the SkyTrain system, construction of the new Port Mann Bridge and expansion of the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

Fitzpatrick died on Feb. 22, 2009 when he was crushed by a boulder while drilling rocks on a Kiewit hydroelectric project. He was 24. 

WorkSafeBC investigations would later reveal a “reckless disregard” for safety on the site.

Two former Kiewit supervisors have also been charged with negligence in the incident.

A Kiewit spokesperson told CBC last week that the company disagrees with the justification for and timing of the negligence charge, and said Kiewit will “vigorously defend” itself in court.

“We have been — and will continue to be — a strong corporate citizen in the province and across Canada,” Kiewit’s vice-president of corporate communication, Bob Kula, wrote in an email to CBC.

“We continue to offer our sincerest condolences to (Fitzpatrick’s) family and friends for their loss. Nothing is more important than the safety of everyone on our jobs and the communities in which we work.”

Other deaths on Kiewit sites

A number of workers have died on Kiewit worksites in the years since Fitzpatrick was killed.

In nearby Washington state, two people have died in falls on Kiewit worksites in the past five years — one on a transit project in Bellevue last year, and the other on a floating bridge construction project in Seattle in 2015.

In 2012, a Kiewit worker on a highway project in Los Angeles was crushed to death by a steel beam. A contract worker employed by a Kiewit joint venture in Indiana died of a massive blunt force head injury in 2014.

And Fitzpatrick’s death wasn’t the first connected to the Kiewit site at Toba Inlet.

He died just three months after seven people were killed in the crash of a Pacific Coastal seaplane carrying Kiewit workers employed at the project. Just one passenger survived the Nov. 16, 2008 crash.

When the Transportation Safety Board investigated, it found that the pilot’s decision to take off in bad weather was a major factor in the crash.

The TSB found no evidence of “overt pressure” from Kiewit to make the flight that day, but its report noted “Kiewit had previously applied pressure to complete the flights by pursuing other operators when Pacific Coastal cancelled flights due to weather.”

Sam Fitzpatrick was 24 when he died. (Christine Tamburri)

Meanwhile, in the two weeks before Fitzpatrick was killed, WorkSafeBC noted two serious incidents caused by debris falling down the Toba Inlet site’s steep slopes.

On Feb. 8, a falling rock damaged an excavator, and then on Feb. 21, a boulder caused $65,000 in damage to a hoe drill. Fitzpatrick died the next day.

Kiewit is one of the biggest construction companies in North America.

The past year has seen the company and its subsidiaries receiving numerous significant construction contracts across the continent that include a portion of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a $2.5-billion upgrade to Montreal’s airport as part of a consortium with SNC-Lavalin, and a 97-kilometre highway through the Northwest Territories.