Young worker killed by Montreal Ferris wheel was told to do dangerous task while ride was in operation

·4 min read
Riley Jonathan Valcin was widely mourned, especially in his home community of Montréal-Nord. He was studying at Polytechnique Montréal at the time of his death. (GoFundMe - image credit)
Riley Jonathan Valcin was widely mourned, especially in his home community of Montréal-Nord. He was studying at Polytechnique Montréal at the time of his death. (GoFundMe - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains graphic details and images that some readers may find disturbing.

A 22-year-old who died while working on Montreal's Old Port Ferris wheel was forced to work in a dangerous area with little regard for safety or training, Quebec's workplace safety board has found.

The safety board, also known as the CNESST, released its report into the death of Riley Jonathan Valcin Thursday. The 22-year-old had reportedly been performing maintenance on the ride last Christmas Day when an accident led to his death.

According to the report, which detailed the circumstances of the accident for the first time, a colleague in another department asked Valcin to manually clear the snow that had been accumulating on the ride's drive wheels, which are used to rotate the Ferris wheel.

Valcin was asked to do this while the ride was moving and in operation.

Timeline of events

After having received verbal instructions, Valcin walked onto a raised platform near the drive wheels through an unlocked gate, which was supposed to restrict access to the area. The gate was normally left open, the CNESST found.

As he approached the mechanism, part of his coat became caught in one of the wheels, dragging him in and crushing him between two parts of the machine.

Valcin would have been subject to a force of about 4,200 kg when he was pulled in, the report said.

CNESST
CNESST

The colleague who had given Valcin the instructions, who was in the ride's operating cabin, realized something was wrong when they saw one of the motors suddenly move out of its normal position. The ride's hydraulic pressure also dropped. They pushed an emergency stop before rushing to the motors, where they found Valcin.

Emergency services rushed him to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

Only five minutes had passed between Valcin receiving his instructions and his death.

According to the CNESST's scathing conclusion, there were insufficient health and safety protocols, which "led workers to improvise a dangerous work method to clear snow from the Ferris wheel's drive wheels."

It also found that the area where Valcin died should never have been accessible in the first place.

Workers had never seen manual

An operating manual for the Ferris wheel was available only in English, the CNESST said.

While the document itself said it must be available at all times to operators, the only copy the CNESST found on the site was in the manager's office in an administrative building.

Several workers, including the one who asked Valcin to complete the task, said they had never read, or even seen, the manual prior to the accident.

The manual warned that "no person is allowed to enter restricted areas when the amusement ride is in motion," as Valcin was told to. The document also said to "never operate the amusement ride if there is icing or snow deposition" on the Ferris wheel.

However, even if the team on the ground had known, they did not have the authority to make that call. According to workers who spoke to the CNESST, only the president — who commutes often between Montreal and the Netherlands — could decide to close the ride for the day.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

In a statement, La Grande Roue de Montréal, which operates the ride, said it had co-operated fully with CNESST inspectors and that "all major corrective measures requested have been implemented."

The company said it has also improved operator training, "which today is significantly more thorough than at the time of the accident."

Love of dancing, basketball

Valcin was widely mourned, especially in his home community of Montréal-Nord. Friends later described him as a hard worker with a bright personality who could lift any mood, who loved dancing and basketball. He was studying engineering at Polytechnique Montréal at the time of his death.

After learning of the report, Valcin's older brother, Joey Valcin, said it hurts to see that his brother's death could have been prevented if the appropriate safety measures had been in place.

"I would really like that those necessary safety measures are now put in place to protect all the employees," he said.

Valcin said his mother is hurting too, and he is working hard to keep her out of the media's spotlight to avoid reopening a healing wound.

CBC
CBC

Four months after Riley's death, the family suffered another tragedy, Valcin noted, when his father, Gamaniel Valcin, was killed in a plane crash in Haiti.

Now that the report is out, Valcin said he would like to encourage employees to learn about their rights and to make sure that any potential employer is making safety a priority.

"Mistakes like this cannot happen again," said Valcin. "Employees need to be protected by employers."

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