Dockworkers at a Lower Mainland container port are still climbing cranes without working elevators despite an initial federal  investigation that identified serious safety issues after a worker’s  death. 

In late January, some  employees at Global Container Terminals’ Deltaport site refused to climb  the 23 flights of stairs to the top of gantry cranes unless elevators  were working. That was about six weeks after maintenance worker Dan  Alder died Dec. 14 after experiencing a medical emergency while atop a  crane. 

The federal Labour Program investigation  into his death found six safety violations, including failing to assess  the risk faced by workers on its dockside cranes when elevators were not  working and failure to develop an adequate rescue plan. The agency  ordered changes. 

The port, like airlines and rail transport, is federally regulated and the Labour Program is responsible for workplace safety.

But a second investigation  by Transport Canada — a different federal department — found there was  “no imminent danger” to workers if elevators aren’t functioning. 

Transport Canada said its  determination was based on “the availability of alternate means of  egress from the crane operators’ cabins,” effectively requiring those  workers to once again climb the cranes. 

Neither of the investigations were released  publicly, but The Tyee has obtained documentation about both and  confirmed key details with Transport Canada and the company. The union  has declined to comment.  

One worker on the docks, who asked not to  be identified because they feared repercussions from the company and  union for speaking about the matter, said the International Longshore  and Warehouse Union Local 502 has since appealed that decision. The  union would not confirm that it had filed an appeal.

The union had repeatedly warned that first  responders would struggle to reach workers on those cranes when the  attached elevators were broken.  

Chris McLeod, an occupational health and  safety expert and a professor at the University of British Columbia,  suggested Transport Canada may have examined a different set of criteria  than its counterparts in Employment and Social Development Canada, the  department that inspects workplaces. 

But the fact two different federal  departments gave conflicting signals on a worksite where a worker died  raises plenty of questions, McLeod said.

“What is the procedure for emergency  responders to provide aid? And why isn’t a functioning elevator part of  that plan?” McLeod said. 

The Labour Program’s initial investigation was sparked by Alder’s death.

He was required to summit the 56-metre  staircase multiple times that day while carrying tools. The broken  elevator meant a first aid attendant and first responders took longer to  reach him. 

Later, they placed Alder on a platform used  for other maintenance work and lowered him about 13 metres so he would  be within range of a cherry picker mounted on the back of a firetruck,  which they used to transport him to the waiting ambulance.

Some union members said they had repeatedly  warned there was no adequate plan to rescue workers on those cranes  when the elevators were broken. The company and the federal government  are both investigating the circumstances of Alder’s death. 

Days after the federal government’s initial  orders were released, workers refused to climb two of the cranes,  including the one Alder was on before he died. 

ILWU 502, in a written notice  to the company, said there was no egress in the event of an emergency  and that climbing the crane without a working elevator would delay  medical care. 

Alex Adams, the marine operations manager  for the company, responded that the stairs provided egress and said it  was “not unreasonable or unsafe” to request crane operators walk up the  cranes. The response does not mention maintenance workers. 

“It is the opinion of the employer that the absence of a working elevator does not constitute a hazard,” Adams wrote. 

The issue ended up in front of Transport Canada, which regulates elevators. The department sided with the company. 

Marko Dekovic, a spokesman for GCT, said  the company is working with the union to address safety issues  identified by the first investigation done by the federal Labour  Program. 

ILWU Local 502 president Rick Huburtise  declined to comment when reached by phone. The union has not spoken  publicly about the circumstances of Alder’s death or the subsequent  investigation into it. 

McLeod said the company should be transparent about what, if anything, has changed at Deltaport since Alder’s death. 

“I think it’s fair to know what those  orders were and what the followup was. Because until they’ve been  brought into compliance with respect to the orders [from the Labour  Program], they’re not complying,” McLeod said.

By Zak Vescera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 03, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Tyee   Vancouver, British Columbia
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