That’s how many people died in work-related incidents across British Columbia in 2022, with six of them happening in the Okanagan. On Friday, the annual Day of Mourning was held at Ben Lee Park in Kelowna to honour those who have lost their lives in work-related incidents and to bring awareness to workplace safety.
Of course, this day hits close to home in Kelowna as it has been 655 days since the Kelowna crane collapse took place downtown that took the lives of five people, four of which were working on the site.
The final speaker on Friday, was Danielle Pritchett, who lost her son, Cailen Vilness, in the collapse. Earlier in the event, it was mentioned that she was in attendance, and often goes around to talk about workplace safety. She stepped up to the microphone and talked about the importance of how to deal with bullying in the workplace.
“I feel like it’s something I can’t stop speaking about enough,” said Pritchett. “When it comes down to it on the job, the workers are being bullied to take shortcuts in safety to save time. That’s a problem for me and that was a problem for my son. He would talk to me about the bullying that happened on various jobs that he worked on.”
“If we’re going to address safety, we need to address the bullying that goes on as well,” said Pritchett. “That was something that affected my son for years.”
She mentioned her other son and her son’s father are also in the construction industry. To end her speech, she thanked the North Okanagan Labour Council and everyone else that has helped the crane investigation, including the Kelowna RCMP, first responders, and the City of Kelowna.
Before Pritchett spoke, North Okanagan Labour Council President Ian Gordon, Kelowna City Councilor Mohini Singh, and Worksafe BC Prevention Officer Len Tarling all spoke at the event in a group of more than 60 people. The majority of them were from WorkSafe BC, the North Okanagan Labour Council, and the City of Kelowna, including firefighters. Karen Abramsen, the Sergeant at Arms for the North Okanagan Labour Council was the MC of the event.
“I’m focused on supporting healthy and safe workplaces so that tragedies don’t happen,” said Tarling. “I’ve seen that many of the incidents could’ve been avoided. The constantly changing, high-paced world that we live in today, coupled with a new and younger workforce, has created many unknown risks to the workers of B.C. The lack of understanding and education of these workers has had consequences on their safety.”
“Safety is everybody’s responsible,” Singh said. “Speak up, because you might be saving a life.”
“Creating a workplace culture where employers and workers prioritize health and safety is essential to help ensure tragedies don’t happen,” said Tarling. “Employers need to ensure their worker’s voices are heard by engaging them in their organization’s health and safety approach and asking for their input on unsafe conditions, inviting them to help find solutions.”
Their speeches were followed by Kaity Laverman, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, who worked as a bomb disposal job as well as firefighting and first responding in her spare time. In May 2019, while her and her team were scanning for bombs on a mountain side, rocks fell and crushed Laverman’s foot, breaking all the bones and severing all her tendons.
“I’ve had to relearn how to walk and it has impacted and changed every single aspect of my live,” said Laverman, who has had two surgeries and is scheduled for a third.
After the ceremony, Capital News talked to Laverman about how her injury has impacted her life.
“Workplace injuries can take everything from a person and you have to remember how to build yourself again from the ground up,” Laverman told Capital News. “I went from being a person who felt like I had no limits and could do anything, and I became extremely humbled and everything can change for you in a moment but you have to have the fortitude and support in order to pick yourself up and keep going everyday.”
Gordon also stated that this year’s Day of Mourning is most likely the last time it will take place at Ben Lee Park. A memorial for the five people who died in the crane collapse is in the process of being built at Knowles Heritage Park on Bernard Avenue. When it’s built, future Day of Mourning events will be held at the memorial.