L’EPIPHANIE, Que. (Canadian OH&S News)
After a landslide at a Quebec quarry swallowed three construction workers and their vehicles, the provincial health and safety board has now switched gears and is investigating how such a devastating accident could have occurred.
On Jan. 29, the ground at a quarry in L’Epiphanie, Que., about 50 kilometres northeast of Montreal, caved in and swept three workers along with the rubble. One male worker was rescued later that day by a police helicopter, but the bodies of the two other missing workers were discovered five days later on Feb. 3. Rescue crews had been delayed because of bad weather conditions, and officials said that they had to switch from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.
Police said that they discovered the second body near a partially exposed truck, assuming that the second truck and its driver would not be too far away, according to Benoit Richard, a spokesperson at the Sûreté du Quebec, the provincial police force.
Because the investigation is still ongoing, authorities are keeping the names of the deceased workers confidential, however they were able to confirm that one of the workers was 54, and both worked for Maskimo Construction. The company held a press conference expressing their condolences for the workers’ families and said that they intend to fully co-operate with investigative officials.
Massive area making search more difficult
The immense size of the Quebec quarry — roughly as big as a football field — has further hindered the rescue efforts.
“There were two trucks and a mechanic, which is like a loader, that were working. Basically the ground went under them and the tree machines went down the quarry — about 300 metres down,” explained Jacques Nadeau, a spokesperson for the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST), the workplace safety regulators. “We put a lot of emphasis for the first five days on the security of the site, and we wanted to make sure that nobody was in danger. And we are working with a geological specialist to make sure the site was safe for the people and rescue crews. Now, we’ll be starting to work on the investigation.”
Nadeau added that his team intends to speak to the lone survivor of the landslide, and will be consulting with outside experts, such as geologists to aid in their investigation.
This is not the first time that Maskimo Construction has come under the scrutiny of the CSST, Nadeau confirmed. In 2008, the company was fined for an accident at a construction site after a worker was hit by a truck and died. However, Nadeau stressed that there is currently no link between the two, as they were such different work sites, and that in this case, a natural disaster had a part to play.
Landslides in the province are not uncommon, but they are rare, he explained.
“There are probably about 150 mudslides in the province of Quebec each year, but not particularly in that sector of the province,” Nadeau said. “There was a similar accident in the fall of 2011, it was in the same region but it was a completely different site.”
The CSST said they expect their investigation to take up to six months.