The City of Edmonton voluntarily suspended all tunnelling projects across the city Wednesday as staff wait for more information on what led to the death of a city employee at a south side work site Tuesday afternoon.
“We know so little about exactly what happened,” city manager Linda Cochrane said Wednesday morning.
“We don’t know if it’s systemic across a number of sites or if it’s specific to this site so we may start reopening other sites or we may open them all fairly soon, I honestly can’t say.”
“I applaud the city for that move,” Mike Scott, CUPE Local 30 president, said Wednesday night. “We know that the city takes safety very seriously and we have strict guidelines of standard-operating procedures.”
At around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, police were called to a site at 14260 Ellerslie Rd. after reports of a workplace accident. A 44-year-old man who worked for the City of Edmonton was found dead.
It’s not known exactly what happened, but Cochrane said the man died “while the crew was working below ground.”
“This was a tunnel for the west end and south side areas to be able to handle the sewage passing that’s required,” she said. “The total length of the project is 155 metres. It’s about 20 metres down and they were about a quarter of the way through the right angle, tunnelling parallel to the ground.
“We are absolutely heartbroken by this tragedy,” Cochrane said.
“The thoughts and the prayers and the warm wishes are being extended by everyone in the City of Edmonton to the family and to the crews involved and to all of the employees in the tunnelling section.”
On Thursday, a spokesperson for OHS told 630 CHED the man was part of a tunnelling crew and died when he was pinned between the wall of the tunnel and a conveyor belt. OHS placed a stop work order on the particular site on Ellerslie Road and 141 Street and the city will continue an internal investigation.
Mayor Don Iveson said the city is fully co-operating with the province’s Occupational Health and Safety investigators as they work to determine exactly what happened at the site Tuesday.
“On behalf of my council colleagues, our condolences to the family, co-workers and friends of our team member,” Iveson said in a statement. “Our council will ensure we receive updates on the results and outcomes of that investigation and act to implement any recommendations that will protect our workers.”
A spokesperson with Alberta Labour said OHS investigators arrived on scene Tuesday and were back on site Wednesday to gather information about the incident.
“They will talk to all the witnesses and gather information on what happened and gather training records and look at equipment and basically anything that may help them determine the cause of the incident,” Lauren Welsh said.
The victim’s identity has not been released. Cochrane said she wasn’t sure exactly how long he worked for the city, but said it was fewer than 10 years.
“He was a well-liked guy, always a smile on his face … willing to help out,” Scott said.
No one else was physically injured in the accident. Crisis support is being provided to the victim’s family and other city employees.
Cochrane said about 100 city employees were off the job Wednesday. Tunnelling sites will reopen once the city has more information from Occupational Health and Safety.
“I think that was a noble step by the City of Edmonton,” Scott said. “They want to ensure that anything going on right now doesn’t happen again. They want to check: is it a systemic problem from that particular site, is it something that could happen at the other sites or is it just a freak accident?
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and we’re all impacted by this. An injury to one is an injury to all of us.”
Cochrane said workplace deaths involving City of Edmonton employees are rare. Last year, a city worker died after he was buried under a pile of gravel while on the job in northeast Edmonton.
-With files from Phil Heidenreich.