It was mid-afternoon, Oct. 11, 2011.
Kyle James Knox of Stouffville, a promising young apprentice with Local 793, was operating a loader at a subway construction site at York University in Toronto, next to the Schulich School of Business.
Suddenly, a massive rotary drill rig collapsed and fell on the loader that Knox was driving, crushing the smaller machine and trapping him in the wreckage.
Another worker and Local 793 member, Dan DeLuca, who was operating an excavator at the site, was also trapped and injured after the liner and auger from the drill rig landed on his machine.
Emergency Medical Services and Toronto Police attended the site.
Three Local 793 members, Kirk Winter, Ryan Blyth and David Tustin, helped in the rescue of DeLuca.
They took the initiative and acted quickly to do the right thing.
Tustin was first at the accident scene. He was operating a rubber tire loader at the site. He used the loader to stabilize the liner and auger of the collapsed drill rig, allowing firefighters to place jacks under it.
Winter and Blyth were working on another site near the accident scene. Winter drove a mobile crane to the scene. The crane still had the counterweights on and two of the tires blew on route.
At the scene, Winter used the crane to lift the auger and liner, enabling firefighters to extricate DeLuca. Blyth used an excavator to hold down the rear of Winter’s crane so he could lift the auger.
After two hours, DeLuca was extricated from the excavator and taken to hospital with serious injuries. He still can not work.
Knox, a 24-year-old Anchor Shoring & Caissons Ltd. employee, was pronounced dead at the scene.
After the accident, Anchor Shoring president Dawn Demetrick-Tattle issued a press release.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our employee and above all else, our thoughts and condolences are with his family,” the press release stated. “Our focus also continues to be on supporting all of our employees and their families during this difficult time.”
The Ministry of Labour conducted an investigation into the accident. The operator of the drill rig was not licensed.
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Although three years have passed since the day of the accident, Dan DeLuca remembers it like yesterday.
He was operating an excavator for Dibco Construction when the rotary drill rig collapsed.
“I got lucky,” says the father of two. “When it fell I got in between a space so the rig didn’t hit my head or body with force.
“I was knocked around like a pinball, though.”
The casing of the drill rig landed on his leg and hip, trapping him.
It took firefighters two hours to rescue him.
“Everybody was scrambling. Two operators came with mobile cranes and pulled the drill rig up so I could get out.”
During the rescue, DeLuca was in and out of consciousness, partly due to the pain medication that paramedics gave him. However, he still remembers most of what happened.
“The adrenalin was keeping me up.”
Firefighters eventually pulled DeLuca from the wreckage.
He suffered severe injuries. His foot was broken in five places. He also had a cracked shoulder and a broken femur and ribs.
DeLuca was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and remained in the critical care unit for four months. After that, he went to rehab for three months.
Today, DeLuca still can’t work. Although he loved his job, he doubts he will ever return to construction because of his restrictions. He can’t sit, stand or walk for any length of time.
“I’ve thought about what to do but it’s a tough thing,” he says. “I’m sort of in a predicament.”
DeLuca says he’s astounded that operators of rotary drill rigs don’t need to be licensed crane operators.
“When I heard those drillers were not licensed I was in shock,” he says. “I can’t believe you can run a machine like that without a licence. They are big pieces of equipment that can destroy.
“You can’t get into a car without a licence but you can run a drill rig.”
* * *
After the accident, officials from the programs branch of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) decided that rotary drill rigs, like the RTG Rammtechnik RG 25 S drill rig that toppled and killed Kyle James Knox, did not meet the definition of a mobile crane and therefore did not require the operator to hold a 339A or 339C crane licence, or a mobile crane operator 0-8-ton construction certification, depending on the torque of the drill rig.
The MTCU made this interpretation without consulting Local 793 or other construction stakeholders.
As a result, Local 793 argued that the directive of the MTCU was wrong and it should be retracted immediately. The union has also been lobbying for changes to the rules, arguing that rotary drill rig operators should hold a valid Ontario Hoisting Engineer 339A or 339C licence.
On Oct. 20, 2012, then Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray announced that mandatory training for rotary drill rig operators would be implemented by the government. He made the announcement to more than 200 delegates at a meeting of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario in Toronto.
Today, two years later, a committee of industry stakeholders has developed a training standard but training still has not been made mandatory.
Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher says he was astonished that the MTCU took the position that operators of rotary drill rigs didn’t need to have a crane licence, as drill rigs are massive pieces of equipment with booms that operate the same as those on a mobile crane.
Not only that, he says, the drill rigs are capable of moving loads in both a vertical and horizontal plane, the same as mobile cranes.
“Clearly, these drill rigs must be operated by a licensed crane operator,” says Gallagher. “These drill rigs are obviously hoisting devices, as they also have load charts.”
Gallagher says Ministry of Labour inspectors should be going out to construction sites and checking to ensure that operators of rotary drill rigs are properly licensed.
Gallagher says he is disappointed the government has not yet taken action.
“It’s been three years since Kyle James Knox was killed and nothing has been done to prevent a future tragedy,” he says. “We’re calling on the government to do the right thing.”
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Local 793 member Jeff Brett has been operating rotary drill rigs for the better part of 25 years. He says there is little doubt that operators need to be licensed, as the machines can be dangerous.
“It can be very dangerous to the public if you’re not trained to use this rig because, just like a mobile crane, if I don’t follow my load chart and my cable specs I could easily snap a cable and it could fly out into hydro wires or the public.”
At a minimum, says Brett, rotary drill rig operators should have a crane licence. Once an operator has a crane licence, he believes they should also receive more training specific to drill rigs.
“I believe mandatory training, especially with this machine, a 339A would be the minimum.”
Brett was interviewed recently at a construction site in Toronto. He has operated all sorts of drill rigs and cranes for Deep Foundations. He’s had his 339A hoisting ticket since 1990.
It’s imperative, he says, for operators to be properly trained.
“These drill rigs have very complicated load charts, and being an operating engineer with a 339A licence helps me greatly to understand and interpret the different kinds of load charts with different applications and apparatus that you put on the machines.
“You can lose over a third of your chart with a four-degree inclination change in ground and that can upset the drill rig very easily.”
Brett says rotary drill rigs are similar to mobile cranes in that the booms can move in both vertical and horizontal planes and lift loads.
“A drill rig is similar to a mobile crane by the fact that this drill rig is on tracks and can move and you can also boom up and boom down and change the inclination of your boom the same as a mobile crane. You’re also hoisting, you’re cabling loads up and you’re cabling loads down at different angles and in different situations. In a drill rig, you’re moving material in a horizontal as well as vertical plane.”
Brett says understanding the load charts is essential because drill rigs are often traveling over uneven ground on construction sites.
“Things can get very dangerous if you don’t understand the capacity. If you don’t follow your load charts it’s very easy to upset one of these machines.”
* * *
Mike Cianchetti, field operations manager at Deep Foundations Contractors Inc., says the company requires that operators have a hoisting licence before they’re allowed on a rotary drill rig.
“It’s important for all of our operators to be properly trained, specifically the drill rig operators, because it’s such a large piece of equipment. You’re working in and amongst all the other construction crews and always in very close quarters.
“At Deep Foundations we only use licensed operators on our drill rigs and we do that because we’re continuously hoisting with that piece of equipment. We feel that it qualifies as a crane and it meets the definition of a crane because we’re hoisting.”
Cianchetti was interviewed recently at a construction site in Toronto. He says drill rigs and mobile cranes are essentially the same.
“The main similarity between the drill rig and the crane is the fact that it has winches, very powerful winches, to raise and lower materials into the holes. It’s based on a crane body, and it’s got a mast that moves horizontally and vertically.”
Cianchetti says drill rig operators also have to be properly trained to read the load charts.
“Load charts with this type of equipment are critical because the stability of the machine is based on the centre of gravity and the tipping point. When you’re operating a crane your centre of gravity is lower. The centre of gravity with a drill rig is above the operator’s head. He has to refer to the load charts to calculate his lift.”
If an operator is untrained and reaches out too far with a drill rig, the machine can topple, he says.
“If you don’t have a trained operator he can not read the load charts, he doesn’t know how to calculate his load and he doesn’t understand the physics behind how the machine operates.”
As an employer, Cianchetti says, he has an obligation to ensure workers on a site are safe and properly trained.
“These drill rigs are more than a crane so what we do is take a licensed crane operator, we train them, we explain to them how to drill shafts, how to analyze and look at soil conditions, and how to look at ground conditions. We take their base knowledge as a crane operator and we expand on that and we make sure that they’re qualified to drill shafts.
“The basis of the training is a hoisting engineers certificate. We take that employee and we give them additional training, additional time on the jobsite, additional time as front-end men working around that piece of equipment, and we give them those experiences. You have to have that knowledge of how to operate the equipment and operate it safely.”
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Local 793 business manager Gallagher says it’s time for the government to step up and do the right thing.
“Mandatory training of rotary drill rig operators will provide better protection for both the operators of the equipment and also for the workers on construction sites in Ontario.
“Rotary drill rigs are dangerous pieces of equipment and those who operate them must be properly trained.”
Gallagher says that, like most accidents, the one that killed Kyle James Knox could have been prevented.
“It was a preventable accident. We can not stand idly by and allow another drill rig accident to occur.”