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B.C. Ferries worker drowned after falling through ramp railing: coroner

Kulwant Singh Chohan’s death was reported to the B.C. Coroners Service on June 13, 2020, by Richmond RCMP.
Flowers are seen placed on an anchor outside B.C. Ferries fleet maintenance yard in Richmond after a worker fell from a ramp and drowned in June 2020. ARLEN REDEKOP, PNG

VANCOUVER — The drowning death of a B.C. Ferries welder after a fall from a ferry he was working on was accidental, the B.C. Coroners Service has ruled.

Kulwant Singh Chohan’s death was reported to the B.C. Coroners Service on June 13, 2020, by Richmond RCMP.

Chohan was an experienced welder employed by the ferry service for over two decades. Though he was highly qualified for his job, he was not a strong swimmer, said the coroner’s report.

On June 12, he and a crew were performing scheduled maintenance on the Northern Sea Wolf ferry while it was docked on the Fraser River in Richmond. His family reported Chohan missing that evening when he didn’t come home.

Video footage showed Chohan standing on the ferry’s ramp at about 12:30 p.m. holding a pike pole — a long pole with a sharp point — trying to retrieve a knee pad that had fallen into the water.

“He was reaching onto and over a fabric webbing panel on the edge of the ramp furthest away from the vessel when the panel broke away from its support system and Kulwant Chohan fell into the water below,” said the report by coroner Cynthia Hogan. “He disappeared from video view at that time, unobserved.”

His body was recovered the next day from five metres of water below the ferry, still wearing his heavy work clothes and boots and without a personal flotation device.

WorkSafe B.C. was called to investigate the death. That investigation found that a year earlier, “eight steel guardrails on the vessel’s embarkation ramp were replaced by six aluminum guardrails and two fabric webbing panels.”

It was one of those fabric rails that gave way under his weight, causing Chohan to fall.

The autopsy found that drowning was the cause of death, with pre-existing serious heart disease a contributing factor. Toxicology results were negative for all substances.

B.C. Ferries has since installed aluminum guardrails on the ramp so workers can’t get within two metres of the edge, ordered employees to wear flotation devices in such situations, and offered training on water rescues and what to do in a fall into cold water.

Because the ferry corporation has already paid a fine and improved safety to avoid similar deaths in future, the coroner made no further recommendations.

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