City 'absolutely heartbroken' by death of worker at tunnel construction site

The death of a 44-year-old city worker inside an underground sewer shaft under construction in southwest Edmonton is a heartbreaking tragedy, says the city manager.

'It's troubling that this happened at a city worksite,' mayor says

Emergency crews were called to the scene in southwest Edmonton Tuesday afternoon. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

The death of a 44-year-old city worker inside an underground sewer shaft under construction in southwest Edmonton is a heartbreaking tragedy, says the city manager.

"This is a really a very difficult time for all us here at the city of Edmonton and in administration," said Linda Cochrane in a public address Wednesday morning.

"We are absolutely heartbroken by this tragedy, and the thoughts and prayers and the warm wishes are being extended by everyone in the city of Edmonton to the family, the crews involved and everyone in the tunneling section."

Emergency crews were called to the site at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday near the corner Ellerslie Road and 142nd Street in southwest Edmonton, where a large, three-metre wide sanitary sewer tunnel is being built more than 30 metres below ground.

The worker, who was working 20 metres below the surface, was declared dead at the scene.

Although Cochrane could not provide details on the incident, she says no other workers were hurt. 

Out of respect for the family, the city is keeping the worker's identity confidential, she said.

Counselling offered

Counselling is being provided to city staff members who may need it.

All tunneling operations for the city have been suspended, as the investigation is handed over to Occupational Health and Safety.

"It's troubling that this happened at a city worksite but I know the city is cooperating fully with the province's Occupational Health and Safety investigators," said Mayor Don Iveson 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.

"On behalf of my council colleagues, our condolences to the family, co-workers and friends of our team member." 

Investigators returned to the site which remains gated and shielded from view with a large green tarpaulin early Wednesday morning.

"The investigation will focus on the procedures used and the safety precautions taken," said OHS spokesperson Andrew Hanon. "All of those aspects."

The SW4 Sanitary sewer project involves construction of large shaft with a tunnel boring machine to expanding an existing tunnel north of Ellerslie Road and west of Whitemud Creek.

Once completed, the two-kilometre pipe will transport wastewater from the Windermere, Heritage Valley, and Riverview areas.