After $75 K fine, Vernon School District broke asbestos rules again - InfoNews.ca

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After $75 K fine, Vernon School District broke asbestos rules again

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October 28, 2016 - 4:30 PM

VERNON - Another investigation by WorkSafe B.C. found the Vernon School District in violation of asbestos management regulations — after it was already warned and fined under similar circumstances.

Several orders related to an incident at the Open Door Learning Centre were issued to the school district on June 21, almost two months after it was fined $75,000 for exposing workers to asbestos containing material in relation to an inspection dating back to 2015. 

On May 4 — the day after the district was fined — an employee conducting renovation work at the new Open Door Learning Centre location at 3303 30 Street became concerned about what appeared to be pre-1990 building materials which could contain asbestos, according to WorkSafe B.C.

“Despite the worker reported concern, no work stoppage was ordered by the employer and workers continued to be exposed to asbestos containing materials contained in the demolition debris,” WorkSafe states in an inspection report.

On May 5, the day after the worker reported the concern, the district took samples of the demolition debris and sent it in for testing. Laboratory results confirmed the presence of asbestos and the district stopped work on May 9.

WorkSafe also points out the district did not have an asbestos inventory for the building (which was leased) and did not ensure that a qualified person inspected the property for hazardous materials prior to the renovation work.

A follow up inspection report in August indicates the district reached compliance with all the orders, and provided an acceptable asbestos exposure control plan. The report also states that based on the violations, there are grounds for imposing an administrative penalty, and/or Occupational Health and Safety citation.

WorkSafe confirmed no further penalties have been issued since the $75,000 on May 3.

“WE NEED TO ENSURE THINGS LIKE THIS DON’T HAPPEN”

By the time of the incident at Open Door, asbestos management regulations were already on the school district’s radar. The inspection that resulted in the $75,000 fine happened in November 2015, and in response the district created a new health and safety officer position, completed asbestos assessments for all district-owned facilities and identified areas containing asbestos. It also created an asbestos exposure control plan which includes training for employees and processes to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. But for some reason, those measures failed at Open Door.

“We’re still trying to determine what went wrong with respect to that, because we do have an asbestos control plan in place,” secretary-treasurer Sterling Olson says. “I’m not clear at this point in time why some of those things failed.”

He says work should have been stopped from the employer’s perspective as soon as the concern was raised, and notes workers have been informed they have the right to refuse work in such cases.

“We’re continuing to try and review and investigate why work continued from both of those (perspectives),” Olson says.

He says the renovation work was being done to prepare the new Open Door Learning Centre for operation after being asked to vacate the city-owned building it leased previously.

“This one is a little bit different and unique from the standpoint it’s not one of our district facilities. It’s a leased facility so we didn’t have inventory surveys on the property,” Olson says.

The understanding was that renovations after 1990 would have already stripped asbestos from the building.

“So, work commenced on that leased property on the assumption — and assumptions are never a good thing — that basically the property was free of asbestos,” Olson says.

A small crew of maintenance employees were working in the building prior to the stop work order on May 9. It’s unknown if any of the workers have, or will, suffer health impacts from the work.

“I don’t know to what extent the exposure to the asbestos was as far as any volumes. From a district perspective, we’re always concerned if employees are exposed. That’s why we have asbestos control plans in place,” Olson says.

With respect to the infractions tied to the $75,000 fine, Olson says those incidents involved cases where workers were tasked with small maintenance jobs. He provides the example of an electrician going into a school drilling through a wall to mount a projector — work that could disturb asbestos containing material.

Olson says he is not aware of any students ever being exposed to asbestos containing material in the district.

The situation highlights the fact that school districts are not just service providers, but employers.

“One of the challenges is our priority is on student learning. There’s continued pressure to have as much money as possible spent on education programs. Having said that, we have a responsibility as an employer to ensure health and safety programs are in place,” Olson says. “It’s one of those ones we may not pay as much attention to as we should because of… the fight for financial resources inside our school district.”

The $75,000 fine, which the school district unsuccessfully appealed, will be paid for out of the school’s operating budget.

“If there is any sort of positive outcome, its basically identified for us the need to improve these programs in health and safety and made an opportunity for us to work towards that,” Olson says.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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