North Okanagan Shuswap School District to appeal WorkSafe BC fine

District appeals fine

The North Okanagan Shuswap school district is appealing a fine from WorkSafe BC.

Earlier this month, School District 83 was fined $204,814 for safety violations.

According to WorkSafeBC, the district was conducting security upgrades at one of its school locations and a WorkSafeBC inspection determined drilling work to install wiring had disturbed drywall and vermiculite, both identified as asbestos-containing materials, on the building's hazardous materials survey.

Shortly after the fine was issued, the district launched an appeal of the ruling.

A statement from the district said SD 83 has been fined by WorkSafeBC as it determined an SD83 contractor, who installed security shutters at Bastion Elementary, did not follow an agreed-to work plan and breached a WorkSafe work practice for handling asbestos.

District management is asking for a review of the decision and wants to assure the public the district is committed to providing a safe and healthy learning and working environment for its students and staff. Supt. Donna Kriger wants to reassure the Bastion School community that there was no potential threat to students and school-based staff as the work was being done over Winter Break.

Due to repeated vandalism at the Bastion Elementary School, the SD83 Operations Department determined protective security shutters would be installed to mitigate further damage.

A contractor for the project was selected based on the selection criteria of experience and price to supply and install the security shutters.

According to the district, part of the contract award process was a full review of the hazardous materials survey including information regarding the potential presence of asbestos. The work was contracted out, and due to the potential presence of asbestos, a hazardous material survey was conducted in accordance with district policy.

During the pre-work planning meeting between district staff and the contractor, and after completion of the hazardous material survey, the district management team developed and communicated the specific work plan the external contractor was to follow during the installation.

“Regrettably the external contractor did not adhere to the agreed work plan and undertook unauthorized work, which involved drilling three small holes (three-eights of an inch in diameter) in areas that were not properly assessed. As a result, a potentially serious incident occurred, and SD83 safe work procedures were not adhered to,” the district statement said.

“A district trades person who had been assigned to the project immediately identified that the contractor had deviated from the agreed to work plan. Senior management was notified, immediate steps were taken to secure the area (including engaging a qualified hazardous material remediation contractor), and WorkSafe BC was informed.”

Samples were taken from the disturbed area and forwarded to a qualified laboratory to determine if asbestos was present. Laboratory reports have confirmed that no asbestos was disturbed. As an added precaution, both areas of potential exposure were contained and thoroughly cleaned by a qualified hazardous material remediation contractor.

After conducting an investigation, WorkSafeBC assessed a significant penalty of $204,814.95 against SD83. The district has requested WorkSafe review this decision due to concerns regarding accuracy of evidence relied upon to determine the penalty.

“It is clear additional steps are necessary to prevent any future contractor noncompliance with district policy. District leadership has engaged a review of our safety management system specifically focused on contractor adherence to SD83 policy as well as our asbestos management program. We apologize for any angst this has caused and intend to learn from this experience and improve our safety management systems,” said Kriger.

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