HANCOCK – Fatal accidents among professional snowguns like the one that claimed the life of a woman at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort earlier this week are rare, but industry experts say the job comes with many risks.
Kimber Francoeur, 30, died Tuesday when the snowmobile she was driving collided with a snow groomer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.
“We are aware of what has happened and a complaints officer is assigned to look into it,” said Mary Hoye, area manager for OSHA’s Springfield office.
Fatal workplace accidents related to moving vehicles are “not an unusual hazard,” Hoye added. “Backup accidents in general happen too often on construction sites, warehouses and other sites.”
She said dump trucks and forklifts are often involved in such incidents. Hoye noted that a death involving a snow cannon has occurred at least once in New England to his knowledge.
The mission of a snow gun is to keep the snow cannons running and to move and prepare artificial snow to cover the slopes for a skier friendly experience. The majority of their work is done at night, especially at the start of the ski season. Harsh weather conditions, such as high winds, icy feet, and severe cold, are not uncommon, although at some point they are called back to the lodge for shelter.
Snowmakers are responsible for making sure that the high pressure air and water hoses are properly attached to the guns and are working properly throughout the mountain, on every ski slope. This involves using snowmobiles and large snow groomers that level and smooth the snow base.
Jiminy Peak employs around 18 snow cannons. Hoye said Tuesday’s crash will be the subject of a “full investigation” and the process will involve witness interviews and reviews of incident reports and other documents at the complex.
The investigation will determine whether any safety standards apply to this incident and, if so, whether there have been any violations of those standards. If violations are found, efforts will be made to change workplace procedures and practices to avoid a similar event and would generally result in a fine.
“But if OSHA finds out that there is a danger, but no standards have been violated, it will issue a danger alert letter,” Hoye said, and would work with the employer to minimize or eliminate any future danger.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office has ruled Francoeur’s death an accident. Francoeur, a longtime resident of the Berkshires who recently lived in Adams, had worked at Jiminy Peak as a snowmaker for about 10 years.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), an independent nonprofit, has warned other employers to keep their employees informed and fully trained when working near moving vehicles.
“Although tragic events like this are more likely to occur on construction sites and loading docks, workers working around mobile equipment in any environment are at risk,” the noted. agency. “It is extremely important that employers train their employees to be aware of the paths of moving vehicles, reversing vehicles and blind spots, and implement safe equipment use practices. “
Jiminy Peak crash victim died doing what she loved – snowing and being outdoors
The agency also points out that New York State classifies ski area workers as having high injury rates and that the snowmaking profession is a particularly risky profession.
“It’s heartbreaking to start the New Year with a preventable worker death,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “Working near large moving machinery is very dangerous and the data on fatalities at work confirm this. Employers should regularly train their employees on safe work areas and how to stay safe around machinery that can so easily take life. “
“For ski area operators and our industry, the safety of our employees and customers is not just a priority – it’s a core value – and it’s a priority every day in our operation,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, Director of Marketing and Communications. for the National Association of Ski Areas.
Isaac said snowmobile fatalities at ski resorts are “extraordinarily rare. The ski industry as a whole shares and highlights these rare incidents to help us all learn and protect each other.
It specifies that the ski areas regularly train on the safety protocols in all the departments, in particular for mountain safety.
“Working outdoors in a wintry environment with snow, ice and freezing temperatures, with industrial machinery, poses particularly unique challenges for the ski industry,” said Isaac. “Mitigating risk in an environment like this requires heightened situational awareness and attention, but some things also stay out of our control. “