A Surrey company working in Burnaby has been ordered to stop all of its asbestos abatement projects after racking up more than $1 million in penalties and five recent stop-work orders from WorkSafeBC.
Since 2011, BCS Contracting Ltd., an asbestos abatement company, has accumulated a total of 16 administrative penalties, totalling $1,118,000.
The latest – and largest – was issued for violations at worksites in Burnaby this spring.
The company was fined $628,034.57 on March 3 during work on a two-storey house slated for demolition and another separate site.
Among other violations, WorkSafe inspectors observed workers working among asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) without proper clothing or respiratory protection.
“The firm committed high-risk violations by failing to safely contain and remove ACMs, and failing to use acceptable procedures for controlling and handling asbestos,” states a WorkSafe report.
These were repeat violations, according to WorkSafe.
The company has been fined five times since 2013 for projects in Burnaby.
The company has also been issued five stop work orders for projects in the Lower Mainland, including two in Burnaby, according to WorkSafe.
On March 24, WorkSafe’s actions culminated in an order for BCS Contracting to stop all work that could disturb asbestos containing materials until the company meets a list of conditions, including adequately informing workers about risks and training them in the safe handling of asbestos, adequately supervising workers handling asbestos to protect them against exposure, and developing a detailed written plot to outline steps the company will take to improve its practices.
Labour advocates argue BCS’s conduct is a perfect example of why the provincial government should make it mandatory for all B.C. contractors who work with asbestos and other hazardous materials to be licensed and for all their workers to become certified.
The current WorkSafe system of monetary penalties doesn’t work, according to Lee Loftus, business manager of the B.C. Insulators Union, because many repeat offenders either work in the underground economy or have no company assets.
“If you don’t pay a fine and you have no assets, (WorkSafe) can’t do anything,” he said. “If you don’t comply, they have to take three years to get you in front of the Supreme Court of British Columbia to find you in contempt.”
And getting a contempt conviction can take years, as illustrated by an ongoing court case against the owner of another Lower Mainland asbestos abatement company, Seattle Environmental Consulting Ltd., Manoj (Mike) Singh, who was charged with contempt of court for violating a 2012 court order.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge initially ruled Singh was not in contempt, but a B.C. Court of Appeal panel overturned that choice in January, and the case has now returned to B.C. Supreme Court.
With mandatory licensing and worker certification in place, municipalities could simply withhold building and alteration permits until the proper papers are supplied, according to Loftus.
Asbestos exposure was the No. 1 workplace killer in B.C. last year, accounting for 64 deaths, according to WorkSafeBC, up from 48 deaths the year before.
Asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period of typically 20 to 40 years.
Many victims die of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer caused nearly exclusively by exposure to asbestos, and asbestosis, a fibrosis of the lungs.
Governments needs to step in to protect workers from exposure, Loftus said.
“That asbestos disease is going to follow them 20, 30 or 40 years later, after this employer’s gone or that individual owner’s gone and there’s no recompense whatsoever,” he said, “and generally there’s not a record of that exposure for the worker; there’s only a penalty assessment for some project on Rumble Street in Burnaby somewhere.”
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