Toronto crane operator says trespassers causing safety, security problems

Toronto crane operator says trespassers causing safety, security problems

The rescue Wednesday of a woman from a downtown Toronto crane raises questions about safety and security on construction sites, says a crane operator known for his Twitter posts of photos shot from above the L Tower condo development.

Rob MacFarlane has since moved on to another construction project, and isn't involved in the Wellesley Street condo project where the woman was rescued.

But during his time at the L Tower, his crane work gave him a view of the city that's usually reserved for construction workers. His photos, while stunning, also inspired copycats, and he often found evidence of others climbing his crane for thrills and photos of their own.

"It was just a miserable thing for me because I'd have to look and see what they were up to last night," said MacFarlane, who estimates that trespassers, known as rooftoppers, climbed his crane around 200 times over his 4½ years at the L Tower construction site.

Some of Toronto's most prominent rooftoppers, who also climb buildings and other structures, boast online followings in the tens of thousands.

At the start of his shifts, MacFarlane says he would sometimes find broken locks, switches that had been incorrectly flipped and, on several occasions, his fire extinguisher discharged and empty.

Once, a pail of hydraulic fluid was misplaced on his crane.

"I unfortunately didn't notice it and at about nine in the morning it fell from the crane and almost hit a police officer," he said.

"It's very stressful for the crane operator because you don't know what's happened up there."

Crane climber charged with mischief

It's not yet clear why or how a woman ended up trapped on a crane Wednesday morning at a construction site near Yonge and Wellesley streets, but MacFarlane says it looks distinctly like other rooftopping incidents he has seen over his two decades on the job.

Marisa Lazo, 23, was rescued by Toronto firefighter Rob Wonfor in a 2½ hour operation involving numerous emergency officials. She has been charged with six counts of mischief and is scheduled to appear in court today.  

After watching the rescue unfold, MacFarlane concluded the woman likely climbed across the crane's boom and then slid down its cable — probably accidentally —  before stopping at the structure above its hook, called a block.

"It would have been terrifying," he said, adding that the cable is thin and would have been lubricated. "It was just a matter of luck that she was able to stop at the block."

While he's happy no one was injured, MacFarlane wants the incident to highlight the security shortcomings that he says often plague construction sites.

Security rules

Toronto bylaws stipulate that construction sites must be fully enclosed by fencing that must "be built to deter entry by unauthorized persons or vehicles." The fence must be at least 1.8 metres in height and its access points must be locked when the site is left unattended.

TMG Builders, the company constructing a Wellesley Station condo building, says it has determined that the site was indeed secure at the time of the incident.

"I think we exceed the standards that are deemed acceptable throughout the city," said Marc Moro, executive vice-president with TMG Builders.

In addition to fencing and plywood boarding, Moro says, TMG Builders has installed cameras around the site that are monitored round the clock, though it's not yet clear if the person watching the feed spotted the woman before she climbed the crane.

"We try our best to ensure a 100 per cent guarantee of security of a site," Moro told CBC Toronto. "Given situations like this that may not always be possible."

TMG says while it's confident with its existing security measures, it will investigate to determine if improvements are needed.

Financial motivation?

The construction site was shut down for hours Wednesday morning during the rescue, costing TMG Builders dozens of hours of labour without any progress to show for it. 

If worker safety isn't enough motivation to improve security, MacFarlane says losses like that might help bring on improvements.

"It certainly cost them thousands of dollars while their equipment and their men were all shut down," said MacFarlane

Moro confirmed the shut down caused a "significant financial impact."