Manitoba Hydro tower collapse 'frightening' for workers

Manitoba Hydro tower collapse 'frightening' for workers

Workers assembling a tower related to the Manitoba Hydro Bipole III power line recently escaped injury when the tower collapsed.

The accident Feb. 8 in the Fox Lake-Gillam area caused Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) to issue a stop work order against Forbes Bros. Ltd., the company doing the work for Manitoba Hydro.

"The investigation identified that the structural failure occurred as specific components required in the construction of the tower had not yet been installed," said a spokesperson for WSH.

The order said workers were put at risk in what was described as a serious incident requiring an investigation under provincial workplace safety regulations.

While no one was injured, WSH said a machine called a telehandler, used for lifting, incurred some minor damage.

It was a "frightening" experience for workers, said Mike Velie, business manager for local 2034 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union.

"The tower collapse is a significant safety-related incident and without doubt has had very real impacts on the employees working in or near the area of the accident," Velie said in a statement.

He said Forbes Brothers has offered counselling services to employees affected.

"Our members went through a range of emotions from thoughts of quitting their trades to a simple heightened awareness of potential hazards near their work."

Work at the site was halted until Feb. 28 when a WSH re-inspection report confirmed Forbes Bros. complied with the requirements of the stop work order.

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said there were 13 workers on scene when the incident happened, all being Forbes employees.

"Our review of the whole situation confirmed our initial thoughts, which was that there was an error in the order of assembly of components in this particular tower," Powell said.

"My understanding is they lowered a piece down but had not yet tied in some diagonal bracing, and that caused it to slowly sink to ground," said Powell. "It damaged a bunch of steel as it bent."

Powell said this type of incident is rare and he could not recall another occasion when a tower collapsed during assembly.

The tower is located on what's known as a collector line, Powell said, meaning it's not directly part of the Bipole III transmission line but is connected to it.

He said the tower's design is different from most other towers because it's situated at a corner of the collector line.

"We've looked at that assembly procedure and revised it in order to make sure we we don't see that type of incident again," said Powell.

Velie said Manitoba Hydro would not provide the union with a copy of Hydro's report into the incident.

"Manitoba Hydro's refusal to release the incident report, along with the detailed causes of the accident, is not helping employees get over this accident or to re-adjust to their worksite," Velie said.

"While some employees may require professional assistance to get over the trauma caused by the collapse, the passage of time will help dissipate the feelings and emotions of others," said Velie.

Forbes Bros. Manitoba operations director Will Myers said three of the workers required counselling but all are back on the job.

Myers attributed the incident to the design of the tower being somewhat different from others. He said there was a miscommunication between Forbes and Manitoba Hydro.

"Usually 99.9 per cent of the time we're in lock step in that space. In this particular one, tower design had changed slightly and I would say both parties from an engineering perspective maybe could have recognized there was a deviation there," said Myers.

"That was the corrective action that came out of the investigation," he said. "If we recognize that there's something different or unique about a design, that review of these erection procedures will take place in the future," Myers said.  

The company's website says "Forbes Bros. is the largest privately held power line construction group, nationally recognized for its capabilities, focused on building high voltage electrical systems across North America and the World."

Bipole III is the 1,341 km multibillion-dollar transmission line being built from northern Manitoba to the south, running down the western side of the province.

Powell said the location of the mishap was about 40 km from Gillam along Highway 290, between the Henday Converter Station and the Long Spruce Generating Station on the Nelson River.

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