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Labour Federation demands Manitoba Hydro improve safety after tower collapse

In the wake of a fatal transmission line tower collapse in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Manitoba Federation of Labour is calling on Manitoba Hydro to make sure workers doing similar work in this province are safe.

Manitoba Federation of Labour ‘fearful’ following fatal collapse of tower in Newfoundland and Labrador

Manitoba Hydro said a tower collapse on the Bipole III line May 2 was the result of improper installation. The contractor on the job was Forbes Brothers. There were no injuries. (Supplied/IBEW Local 2034)

In the wake of a fatal transmission line tower collapse in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Manitoba Federation of Labour is calling on Manitoba Hydro to make sure workers doing similar work in this province are safe.

"I hope these things are being looked at seriously and I'm very fearful," said MFL president Kevin Rebeck, worried that the accident in Newfoundland could be repeated in Manitoba.

Two workers died Monday when a steel transmission tower collapsed while being built near Come by Chance, N.L.

Manitoba Hydro has had five transmission towers collapse between February and May this year, although there were no injuries reported in the Manitoba incidents.

'There's a system that's not working'

"I think when you have five instances happening, that there's a system that's not working," said Rebeck. "We need to make sure that people are given the supports they need to do their jobs in a way that things are done safely."

Manitoba Hydro has attributed all five tower collapses to human error. Rebeck takes exception to that and said he'll be conveying his views in a letter to Hydro's president.

"We don't appreciate it just being pawned off to saying, 'Well, it's some human error'. Let's make sure that things are looked at properly," Rebeck said.

"Let's make sure we minimize any chance of errors occurring and let's make sure we're putting people in the safest possible work environment."

In a March 26 tower collapse that happened in Manitoba Hydro's Lake Winnipeg East project, Hydro said two of four guy wires that support the tower had slipped out of their connecting sleeves. Workers were not on site when it happened.

Industry as a whole is safe: company president

The company doing the work for Hydro on that tower is Edmonton-based Valard Construction, whose president is in Winnipeg for meetings with Manitoba Hydro officials to address issues raised by the accident.

"When we found out about the tower collapse, it happened overnight," Valard president Adam Budzinski told CBC News. "We put an inspector on the site. The inspector was very easily able to identify the problem as a sleeve that was not properly installed," referring to a part that anchors the guy wire in place.

"We immediately took the entire project out of service. We stood down all the employees, didn't allow them to approach or climb the towers, and proceeded to bring on one of our X-ray teams to X-ray all of the sleeves on the project," Budzinski said.

The X-ray inspections detected six more instances of a sleeve on a guy wire not properly installed, he said, allowing the company to make sure corrections were made.

"So definitely it was the right decision to take the project out of service," said Budzinski.

He said his company has a good safety record.

"As much as for us, this collapse on this project was a major concern, we have actually stood up about 5,000 similar towers without incident in the last two years. So it doesn't make me think that the industry as a whole is unsafe and it doesn't make me think that, with proper due diligence, we can't keep our employees safe," said Budzinski.

A tower being erected by Forbes Bros. collapsed Feb. 8 near Gillam. Manitoba Hydro said workers had just vacated the spot where it came tumbling down. (Supplied/Manitoba Workplace Safety & Health)

He agrees with Manitoba Hydro's assessment that the accident was caused by human error.

Valard had subcontracted the work for the guy wire sleeves to another company. Budzinski said a lesson learned from the incident is that Valard will be more careful in working with its subcontractors and suppliers.

Concerns 'not effectively communicated': report

In the four other tower collapses, the companies doing the work for Manitoba Hydro were Rokstad Power, which was involved in March 15 and May 3 incidents, and Forbes Brothers, involved in Feb. 8 and May 2 tower failures.

Forbes Brothers was also the company involved in the fatal Newfoundland and Labrador tower collapse this week.

CBC obtained a copy of an incident investigation report filed after a Forbes Brothers tower failed on Feb. 8 near Gillam in northern Manitoba. It said that an hour after anchor ropes were removed from the tower, it collapsed. Workers had just vacated the spot where it came tumbling down.

The report said a Manitoba Hydro engineer was on site two days before the accident and Manitoba Hydro inspectors were on site while it was being erected. However, "the concerns and limitations of this structure were not effectively communicated," the report noted.

"Neither Manitoba Hydro nor Forbes followed through with the contractual requirement for an erection plan," it said.

It also noted  Forbes Brothers had identified defects in the fabrication of some parts called "splice plates" for the tower, as well as some metal pieces that were not rigid enough.

Manitoba Hydro said there was no issue regarding quality of steel or fabrication problems connected to the Feb. 8 tower collapse.

Rokstad did not respond to interview requests.

Forbes continuing investigation, VP says

Forbes initially referred CBC News to Manitoba Hydro when asked for comment.

In a later statement to CBC News, sent June 22, Forbes Bros. senior vice-president Matthew Forbes said the accident in Newfoundland and Labrador was the only one that Forbes has experienced with that type of tower in its 40-year history.

"Recent events, including the unfortunate accident that tragically resulted in the death of two of our colleagues at a Forbes site in Newfoundland and Labrador, have drawn attention to safety matters in the power line construction industry. These matters are the utmost priority to our company as they are with all of our industry partners," Forbes said in the statement.

"We continue our investigation in Newfoundland and Labrador to gain a thorough understanding of the cause of this tragic accident," he added.

"We have a team dedicated to ensure timely public disclosure, and a comprehensive investigation. We as a company, community, and industry need to ensure accidents such as this do not reoccur." 

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