The family comes every year to remember the tragic death of a husband and father — carpenter Donald Davis.
Just 34, he and three other workers fell to their deaths on Jan. 7, 1981, when a platform 36 floors up collapsed during construction of the Bentall Centre Tower IV.
Carpenters Gunther Couvreux, Brian Stevenson and Yrjo Mitrunen also died that day.
“It’s important for us to be here,” said Tracy Davis at an annual memorial in downtown Vancouver on Monday for her dad and the other three workers organized by the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.
She noted she was just 10 years old when her father died. Her brother, Michael, was 13, her brother John, 12.
“On any workplace a preventable accident can happen. There is still too many of them,” said Davis, who was there with her mom, Carol, and other family members.
Since the deaths of the four workers in 1981, another 1,000 construction workers have died in B.C., an average of 27 deaths a year, according to figures provided by the building-trades council.
Last year, there were 44 work-related construction deaths, a 42-per-cent increase from 2016.
Of the 44 deaths in 2017, 17 were workers who died from trauma on the job, while 27 died from exposure and disease, all but two of those related to asbestos.
Overall, the work-related death rate for traumatic incidents in all industry groups is going down. However, the death rate for exposure and disease is going up.
Among the traumatic deaths in the construction sector in 2017 were several of workers falling from heights, including a young worker who fell about 45 feet inside a building under construction while applying steel, roof-deck material. Other workers fell from ladders and another worker died during a gutter repair job when an aluminum extension ladder contacted overhead electrical conductors.
There were also several vehicle crashes involving construction workers.
Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the building-trades council, noted that one of the recommendations from a 1982 inquiry into the deaths of the four workers at the Bentall tower was for compulsory safety training, yet construction workers continue to sustain an occupational fatality rate that is three times the provincial average for all workers. He said that with the proper emphasis on safety, training and enforcement, all of these 1,000 deaths could have been prevented.
“Every single one of them was a son or a daughter, a mother or a father, or a sister or a brother, or a husband or a wife, and they were taken too soon justbecause they went to work,” Sigurdson said at the memorial.
“To their memory we commit to do all that we can to make construction work sites safer for all workers,” he told the hundred or so representatives of building-trade unions, the labour movement, WorkSafe B.C., the business community and local leaders gathered for the memorial.
The representatives gather annually with family members to participate in the ceremony near the Bentall towers.
This year, 17 red roses were placed on the memorial plaque for the workers who died of trauma and 27 white roses for the workers who died of exposures and disease.
Last year, the NDP, friendly to labour, came to power after 16 years of Liberal rule in B.C. The NDP’s platform promised to make workplace safety a priority, and enforce workplace safety.
On Monday, at the memorial ceremony, B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said the four workers had their lives cut too short.
“All of us are here today to recognize that their loss must not be in vain, that their tragic accident must serve as a springboard for greater worker safety in B.C.,” said Bains. “As minister of labour, it is my promise to continue to improve the worker safety and aim high by helping make B.C. workplaces the safest in the country.”
Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services for WorkSafe B.C., noted construction’s work-related death rate does fluctuate. While it jumped to 44 in 2017, and was at 30 in 2016, the year before it was 45.
In any case, one workplace death, is one too many, said Johnson.
He said WorkSafe B.C.’s high-risk strategy includes a focus on falls from elevation, and the agency also has a focus on asbestos.