School district penalty upped

A fine of $52,000 given to the Coast Mountains School District for unsafe asbestos removal has not only been upheld, but increased.

An original fine of $75,00 was issued by WorkSafeBC (WSBC) for the unsafe removal of asbestos in the Suwilaawks Community School's Clarence Michiel building during Aug. 2009.

The fine was then reduced by 30 per cent to $52,000 by WSBC after the agency subsequently decided the district had taken corrective measures.

But following a review of the fine requested by the school district, the penalty was upheld, the discount removed and the dollar amount returned to $75,000.

“The nature of the hazard and the degree of risk were very high given that asbestos was involved,” read one of the conclusions of the review.

School district secretary treasurer Alanna Cameron said district is aware of the severity of the situation.

“The district does not and has not disputed the violations by WSBC. The seriousness of these violations is well understood by district staff,” Cameron said.

She did note the safety agency has now recognized corrective measures taken by the school district.

Cameron said that when the asbestos removal was first planned, a Vancouver company was hired to provide training.

But when the asbestos company did not show up due to a personal emergency, the district's project supervisor had district employees remove the asbestos anyway, she said.

“He (the supervisor on in charge) felt that based on what he knew there was no reason to delay, it was a misunderstanding, he didn't realize the severity of the situation,” Cameron said.

Cameron said the district now has a more more functional and inclusive health and safety program, which will report monthly to the school board's businesses committee.

School board chair Barry Pankhurst said the fine is unfortunate and puts a strain on the budget.

He added that it is a case of one government agency fining another public agency.

Pankhurst said the district is working with WSBC to ensure that problems like this won't happen again.

“It was a mistake and we realized that,” he said.

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