The tree that ended the life of Whistler ski instructor Eric "Rooster" Rousseau, 40, on Sept. 27, 2011 was not considered a risk to overhanging BC Hydro lines and was not supposed to be cut. And Rousseau, though experienced in clearing trees and brush, was not properly certified to do the cut himself.
This week WorkSafeBC released the results of its investigation into Rousseau's death after a Freedom of Information Act request by Pique. Among other things, the investigation determined that errors and misunderstandings occurred at several levels leading up to the accident.
One of the main underlying factors, according to investigators, was Rousseau's lack of qualifications as a tree faller. According to the contract, a professionally certified faller was required to cut down any trees over 15cm in diameter; however, Rousseau felled several trees in the area far larger, including a cedar with a diameter over 50cm.
The alder he was cutting at the time of the accident was about 40cm in diameter. It's also a species prone to "barber chairing" — splitting vertically while being cut, with the split end often kicking back towards the faller before the tree falls.
Rousseau's cutting technique was not up to certification standards, and he didn't have any additional equipment such as wedges and axes, which are used by professional fallers.
According to the report: "...Worker 1 (Rousseau) believed that he was fully capable of removing these trees and proceeded to fall them."
The investigation also found that there was a lack of information before the clearing began. The larger trees in the right of way were noted in a flyover, but were not included on the drawings because it was determined that they didn't pose any risk to the hydro lines. They were missed in a walkthrough to mark the area, as well as during a hazard review of the site.
As a result, there was no clear direction what to do with the cluster of trees. When the trees were discovered by Rousseau, he mentioned it to the contractor he worked for and was reportedly told not to "push the limit" too far. Rousseau then made the judgment call to remove the trees himself, rather than call in a professional faller — something that would have reduced the work hours and profits.
According to the report, "Worker 1 came to a different conclusion (to BC Hydro) on his own regarding these trees and decided to fall them."
Rousseau was one of the Whistler Blackcomb's highest certified ski instructors, and helped to train hundreds of other instructors working towards their Level 2, 3 and 4 certification. He was also named as a member of the Canadian Demo Team and Interski Team, representing instructors at the highest level, internationally.
No actions have been taken against the contractor, Squamish-based Leader Silviculture, or BC Hydro as a result of the accident, nor have any recommendations come out of the investigation at this point.