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The reasons for the huge WorkSafe B.C. fine against Vernon School District

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April 19, 2017 - 10:38 AM

VERNON - WorkSafe B.C. is defending its decision to impose a hefty penalty against the Vernon School District.

Yesterday, School District 22 said it was ‘very disappointed’ in WorkSafe’s decision to issue what it called an "excessive penalty."

The $628,034 fine came after a maintenance worker doing renovations at the new Open Door Learning Centre last summer raised the alarm about possible asbestos-containing material. According to WorkSafe B.C., the school district failed to take proper safety precautions and maintain a safe workplace.

WorkSafe B.C. spokesperson Scott McCloy says in a written statement the penalty amount is appropriate for the "repeat, high risk violation."

“Exposure to asbestos can result in serious injury or death, including lung diseases such as asbestosis and a cancer called mesothelioma,” McCloy says.

The Open Door Learning Centre is located at 3400 30 Street.
The Open Door Learning Centre is located at 3400 30 Street.
Image Credit: Google Street View

The School District is working with its lawyers and plans to appeal the fine. Among its arguments, the District takes issue with the way the fine was calculated. Instead of being based on the four-to-five maintenance workers at the job site, the fine was calculated based on the district’s total payroll of roughly 850 people.

According to McCloy, the fine was indeed calculated on the payroll, but it also took into account previous penalties imposed for the same or similar violations in the past three years and if the violation was high risk.

This isn't the school district's first penalty related to asbestos. It received a $75,000 fine  in May of 2016 related to other asbestos violations.

WorkSafe recently amended its policy for determining fine amounts, and the new guidelines affect violations that happened after March 1, 2016.

“These amendments included substantial changes to the calculation used to determine penalty amounts,” McCloy says. “When certain factors are present, including violations that are high risk in nature or that represent repeat violations of a similar nature — such as what happened in Vernon — the resulting penalty calculations can now be at or near the statutory maximum.”

Asbestos is the number one occupational killer of workers in B.C., McCloy says. Between 2006 and 2015, more than 580 workers died from asbestos exposures that had taken place years before.

“All employers, including school districts, are aware of the requirements to protect workers from asbestos exposure,” McCloy says.


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