March 11, 2013
WorkSafeBC issues penalty report
Construction firms accounted for the largest share of penalties handed out by WorkSafeBC in 2012 for workplace safety violations.
“Penalties are imposed to motivate employers to comply with health and safety laws,” said vice president of prevention services Al Johnson.
“While WorkSafeBC works with employers to ensure they understand their legal responsibilities to provide safe and healthy workplaces — our officers will impose a penalty or pursue court processes against employers who repeatedly fail to comply with the law.”
WorkSafeBC recently released a report that said it imposed 260 penalties in 2012, totaling $2.9 million against employers for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and the Workers Compensation Act.
Some of the biggest fines were levied against a contractor who failed to protect workers from exposure to asbestos.
Skylite Building Maintenance Ltd. was hit with the second and third highest penalties in 2012, which were $105,000 each.
The violations, which occurred at worksites in Richmond and Vancouver were for chronic repeated violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and Workers Compensation Act and exposing workers to asbestos.
“This firm put workers’ health and safety at risk through its failure to use methods acceptable to WorkSafeBC when it conducted a pre-demolition hazardous materials survey on a house,” said the report.
“WorkSafeBC found numerous flaws in the firm’s survey. These included the failure to sample window sealant and vinyl floor tiles that were later found to contain asbestos.”
In the second violation, a worker with Skylite failed to identify all the asbestos-containing materials that were present, when he conducted a pre-demolition hazardous materials survey on a house.
“Substantial amounts of asbestos-containing vermiculite insulation and flooring that were not identified in the survey were discovered after demolition work had already begun,” said the report.”
In both cases, the presence of these unidentified hazardous materials may have resulted in workers involved in the demolition being exposed to harmful airborne asbestos fibres.
The firm failed to ensure that its workers used occupational hygiene methods acceptable to WorkSafeBC when conducting a pre-demolition survey for hazardous materials.
In 2012, three penalties were imposed on Skylite totalling $227,500.
WorkSafeBC has increased its enforcement capacity and is directing a more intensive focus to the industries that present the highest risk to workers and to employers where compliance is known to be an issue, in particular steep slope roofing and asbestos abatement.
Employers from the construction sector accounted for almost 85 per cent of penalties.
Most of these penalties were related to inadequate use of fall protection (59 per) and exposing workers to asbestos (14 per cent).
Asbestos has largely been cleaned up in institutional and industrial buildings in B.C.
However, due to the long latency period for asbestos related illnesses, fatalities from exposure to asbestos are likely to have happened decades ago.
For this reason, widespread exposures between the 1950s and 1980s are beginning to show up in current occupational disease and fatality statistics.
Workers aged 55 and older are at a greater risk of fatal occupational injuries.
In particular, asbestos related diseases claimed the lives of 488 workers between 2002 and 2011, which represents 59 per cent of the people who died at or above the age of 55. In 2012, 2011 and 2010 there were 68 deaths, 63 deaths and 57 deaths respectively.
These deaths are not related to WorkSafeBC’s current prevention initiatives in the residential construction industry, which is still a serious hazard.
Residential construction in the Lower Mainland is a particular problem because older homes are being bulldozed to put up condos and new homes.
Asbestos can be found in more than two dozen types of older home building materials, including drywall filling compound, loose insulation, flooring, textured walls and ceilings, stucco, and roof felt and shingles.
Asbestos is a strong, fire-resistant mineral fibre.
In the past, asbestos was used as insulation against heat or noise and for fire protection. It was also added to materials such as concrete and plaster to give them more structural strength.
The highest single penalty in 2012 was imposed against Francesco Aquilini & Roberto Aquilini & Elisa Aquilini et al., for failing to maintain in safe operating condition, the farm vehicle the employer used to transport farm workers. This was a repeated violation and the firm was fined $125,277.
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