Safety board blames improper training for death at Montreal’s giant ferris wheel
Compliance & Enforcement Health & Safety workplace accident Workplace accident -- fatality
Deficient safety practices at the ferris wheel in Montreal’s Old Port led to the Christmas Day 2021 death of a worker at the tourist attraction, Quebec’s workplace safety board said Thursday.
Wrong place at the wrong time
Riley Jonathan Valcin, 22, became trapped in the drive wheels of the 60-metre-tall ferris wheel five minutes after he was asked to clear snow off the machinery while the massive structure was in motion, the safety board said in its report on the workplace death.
Valcin, a maintenance worker, should never have been on the elevated platform where the drive wheels are located, said the safety board, called the Commission des normes, de l’equite, de la sante et de la securite du travail.
“He wasn’t trained because he worked in another department,” board inspector Judy Major said Thursday. “It was not a task that he was supposed to do.”
Major said Valcin’s death was caused by two factors. The first, she said, was that the danger zone that was formed between the drive wheels and the drive plate was accessible to workers and shouldn’t have been. The second issue, she said, is that the health and safety management at the site was deficient in a way that led workers to improvise a dangerous method of snow removal on the drive wheels.
The board found that workers at the ferris wheel site weren’t properly trained for tasks they were asked to do, that the wheel’s operating manual was not available to workers and that there were no formal procedures during weather conditions of snow or ice.
The only barrier preventing access to the drive wheels was a chain that Major said was regularly left unlocked.
“There were weaknesses that could lead to accidents and there was an accident,” she said.
A lapse in proper training or a freak accident?
In total, six corrective notices were issued to the wheel’s operators, Major said, adding that the board is satisfied the ferris wheel’s operators have taken the necessary steps to fix safety issues.
The company that owns the ferris wheel – called La Grande Roue de Montreal – said it met all required health and safety standards at the time of the accident. The wheel is owned by Dutch businessman Henk Addink and is located on land owned by federal Crown corporation Canada Lands Company.
“Our operators were trained – they were properly trained – because we had certified trainers coming here regularly,” said ferris wheel spokeswoman Lawrence Esso.
“Our site was checked and we received a permit, which was renewed annually. If there was any issue in the past, I guess we would have been closed at some point, which was never the case.”
Esso said snow was never supposed to be removed manually from the ferris wheel.
“Everybody is still in shock about what happened,” Esso said. “It’s a tragic accident; he was sent there when he wasn’t supposed to be there.”
The name of the employee who sent Valcin to clean the snow off the drive wheels was redacted from the board’s report.
Esso said the company has taken steps to limit access to dangerous areas and improve training for operators. The company has also partnered with an independent firm to improve its health and safety practices, she added.
Valcin’s older brother, Joey Valcin, said it hurts to see that if the appropriate safety measures had been in place, his brother’s death could have been prevented.
“I hope that this tragic event will serve as a lesson for the employees to better inform themselves regarding their rights as employees in order to protect themselves from something like this and for the employer to put the necessary measures in place to better protect their employees,” he said.
Valcin remembered his brother, a civil engineering student at Polytechnique Montreal, as funny and loving.
“He was highly competitive, driven, he never gave up. He had a bright future because of all those qualities.”
Valcin, whose father died in a plane crash in April, said he and his mother “will dearly miss” Riley.
The board said it has not yet decided if any fines will be issued to the wheel’s owner.