Bluesfest Report
Highlights Stage Violations

The company that provided the stage that collapsed during Cheap Trick s set at Ottawa Bluesfest in Ontario last year has denied the claims of a newly released report that raises questions about the safety of the structure.

Groupe Berger’s stage was poorly constructed and violated several provincial safety laws and building regulations, according to a Ministry of Labor report released to the Ottawa Citizen.

The report, obtained through a freedom-of-information request, says there was no inspection of the structure by a licensed engineer during the construction of the stage or following a windstorm a week before the collapse. It also says the stage’s wind walls were attached with wires, making them impossible to cut when the wind began to kick up during the show.

Groupe Berger’s Stéphane Berger told Pollstar the company disagrees with most points found in the report and said the claim that the wind walls were attached by steel wire was simply untrue.

“The wind wall was attached with zip ties – easy to cut,” he said.

He also took issue with the report’s failure to place any blame on the production team when it came to calling off the show given the impending storm.

“It was not the stage supervisor’s responsibility to call off the show but the producer,” he said. “On a show like that we have only one tech on site and we work together with the production.”

The report contains no criticism of the Bluesfest organization that produces the event, the Citizen said, but it does list 19 “failings” by Groupe Berger under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In an inspection following the collapse, engineer Robert Molina found a “number of construction irregularities” in the structure including the use of wrong-sized bolts and segments secured by too few bolts.

“Although irregularities were not a direct cause of the stage collapse it demonstrates poor workmanship in the assembly of the stage,” Molina wrote.

Another section of the report written by safety inspector Jason Gordon notes the windstorm a week before the collapse also played a significant part in what happened later.

During the earlier storm, crewmembers were apparently able to relieve pressure on the stage by cutting the zip-ties and bungee straps holding down the wind walls.

“When the walls were secured after this event,” Gordon wrote, “they were secured using a different method, including the use of cable ties. This caused a change in the procedure for release of the wind walls (no longer able to cut with knives). Witness statements indicate that ‘wind walls’ were unable to be released as the stage hands were unable to cut or release the cable ties.”

The gusts reached about 72 mph that day and with the wind walls in place, the “wind loads exerted on the stage … exceeded the design parameters,” the report says. “Had the side and rear walls been removed as required at [50 mph] the stage would have resisted a wind event of [72 mph].”

The stage was reportedly designed to withstand winds up to about 75 mph.

“Groupe Berger failed as an employer to take the reasonable precaution of releasing the wind walls despite being aware of the forecast for damaging winds, therefore failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker,” Gordon wrote.

The Ministry of Labor ruled in July that weather alone caused the stage to collapse and announced it would not press charges over the incident.

Berger said his company plans to meet with the Ministry of Labor to discuss the report.