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Three workers are now safe after being trapped underground. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.

Three workers rescued safely after incident, concerns raised by union workers

On Thursday, Nov. 10, at around 4:45 p.m., firetrucks and emergency responders arrived at the intersection of Laurier Avenue East and Waller Street following the collapse of a concrete ceiling in a light rail transit (LRT) construction zone.

Construction workers and first responders, along with students at the scene called the incident a “collapse.” However at 6:34 p.m. mayor Jim Watson Tweeted, “I’m on-site. No tunnel collapse. Staff are reporting a small construction incident with minor injury to one worker.”

According to CTV Ottawa, city councillor Mathieu Fleury confirmed that a piece of concrete had fallen from the ceiling of the tunnel. This had occurred while workers had been applying shotcrete, a sprayable concrete designed to reinforce the tunnel.Watson told the CBC that approximately six kilograms worth of concrete had fallen.

OC Transpo dispatches said that three workers were trapped inside the tunnel during the collapse of the concrete, and this was confirmed by Fleury on the scene.

“What I’m told is safe zones is an enclosed area, it’s a cage in case there were an incident in the tunnel. My understanding is that the three workers are in that caged area awaiting the rescue team,” Fleury told the Fulcrum, while the workers were still underground.

“There’s nothing at the surface. It is a section of shotcrete, which is temporary concrete that would have fallen in the tunnel,” said Fleury.

Peter Launch, the technical director of the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), told the CBC that the steel cage had come loose from the tunnel wall while workers were applying the shotcrete reinforcement.

Launch further said it is possible that two of the workers were in the basket of a hydraulic boom lift when the cage had detached from the wall, and this might have made them unable to lower their lift.  

Bus routes were also redirected onto Laurier Avenue from Nicholas Street until King Edward Avenue, with delays said to be as long as three hours by several students on campus.  

The CBC later reported that the workers were rescued by firefighters, with two of the workers unharmed and one sustaining a minor hand injury.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour had begun an investigation following the incident, and on Nov. 11 the CBC reported that the ministry issued three orders, including to not disturb the scene, for the RTG to provide documentation (unspecified), and for another employer, Hard Rock Concrete, to provide further documentation.

This is the fourth LRT-related incident in the city that has required an investigation by the ministry. In 2014 a section of Waller Street collapsed near Laurier Station and the Arts building, while in June of this year a sinkhole emerged on Rideau St, which caused a gas leak and power outage in the area. Four days before that incident, however, a fire had also erupted in a section of the LRT construction site.

While the City of Ottawa has, according to the CBC, “downplayed” this most recent incident with John Maccini, general manager of the transportation services department calling the concrete collapse a “minor construction incident,” union workers are raising concerns.

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council is “concerned and frustrated” over the lack of information on the injured worker, as the CBC further reported.

McKenny also said that the case will add to delays, leading to pressure on employees to work faster to meet deadlines due to the delays.

The ministry has since lifted their temporary stop work order at the site.