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WorkSafeBC report details fatal floor collapse at North Vancouver Cineplex site

Residents in the area described the whole neighbourhood shaking as the walls and floor came down.
WorksSafeBC has concluded its investigation into the fatal collapse of a floor at the North Vancouver Cineplex site as it was undergoing demolition for redevelopment, Aug. 25, 2021. | Pat Bell

A Metro Vancouver demolition company committed numerous occupational health and safety and Workers Compensation Act violations leading up to the collapse of a floor at their North Vancouver job site, which left one worker dead and another seriously injured, WorkSafeBC has found.

The incident happened on Aug. 25, 2021 at the old Cineplex theatre on West Esplanade, which Done Right Demolition and Disposal had been contracted to bring down for redevelopment.

Because of the size of the building and busy streets and sidewalks nearby, Done Right proposed demolishing the building from within using a small excavator.

They found, however, the arm of the excavator wasn’t quite long enough to reach the top of the second-floor wall they were demolishing, so they created ramps and pads out of demolition debris to bring the heavy equipment within reach.

“Within a few minutes, as the excavator operator began to use the hammer, the entire second-level floor of the upper east cinema collapsed and fell approximately 7.9 metres (26 feet) to the ground-level floor below,” an investigation report from WorkSafeBC states.

At the time, residents in the area described the whole neighbourhood shaking as the walls and floor came down.

The worker in the excavator survived but with serious injuries. The foreman, a woman who was using a hose to suppress demolition dust, was killed. At the time, North Vancouver RCMP stated she had been trapped in the rubble and died as a result of catastrophic injuries. The Vancouver Fire Rescue Services’ heavy urban search and rescue task force was brought in to recover her body from the dangerous wreckage site later that day.

WorkSafeBC began their investigation into the incident soon after. Their report, released under a freedom of information request, concludes that the combined load of the excavator and several weeks of the accumulated demolition debris “exceeded the bearing capacity of the supporting walls and caused the progressive failure of the masonry wall connections, resulting in the total collapse of the floor.”

The structural engineer who signed off on the demolition plan specified that the loads deemed to be safe on the floors were calculated based on the weight of the excavator alone and he explicitly cautioned that “all debris demolished and dumped shall be cleaned away before excavator work on those areas.”

The engineer did a site visit a few months before the incident and saw a ramp made from demolition debris being used to move equipment from one floor to the next, and warned Done Right not to use it because it would be too heavy for the floor.

Done Right’s demolition plan lacked detail on how to deal with the accumulated debris and the company did not adequately communicate the plan’s procedures to the workers, WorkSafeBC concluded. The job site was also lacking oversight that could have prevented the accident.

“The instructions prescribed by the engineer in the demolition plan were not followed,” WorkSafeBC’s report states, adding later: “Done Right did not recognize or take any action to address the discrepancy between what was prescribed in the plan and what was actually being done.”

Lack of experience was also likely a factor, as Done Right had mainly worked on wood-frame residential buildings and had never performed a demolition using excavators working from within a multi-storey building, the report notes.

Based on their inspection, WorkSafeBC found there are grounds for imposing an administrative penalty and/or occupational health and safety citations.

Specifically, WorkSafeBC found that Done Right failed to ensure a structure was supported as necessary to safely withstand any loads likely to be imposed on it, failed to provide adequate instruction and supervision to workers, and failed to ensure a structure undergoing demolition is supported in a manner prescribed by an engineer.

A separate subcontractor working on job was also cited for failing to ensure the health and safety of all its workers and failing to ensure a structure undergoing demolition is supported in a manner prescribed by an engineer.

WorkSafeBC has not yet determined what penalties the companies will face, but the size of the fine is typically based on the size of the employer’s payroll and the nature of the violation, according to a statement from WorkSafeBC.

Done Right Demolition and Disposal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several sections of the investigation report are redacted including all references to names of the people involved.

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