The house at 242 Van Horne Street (centre) was torn down in late November, but developers neglected to remove asbestos from the structure prior to demolition. Google Street View

Singlas get $2,500 fine for asbestos hazard

The firm failed to remove the hazardous substance from a house it demolished late last year

A construction and rental housing firm that demolished a house with asbestos inside will pay a total of $3,000 in penalties for the late November incident.

Singla Bros. Holdings Ltd. was denied its $500 safety deposit from the City of Penticton, according to building and permitting manager Ken Kunka, but more recently the firm was handed a $2,500 fine from WorkSafeBC.

“A large rubble pile was covered by tarps, and there was spilled vermiculite insulation in several areas of the pile,” says the WorkSafeBC report posted on its website on Aug. 7.

“The hazardous materials assessment conducted for the site had identified the vermiculite as being an asbestos-containing material. The firm’s failure to safely contain hazardous materials was a high-risk violation.”

Related: City withholding building permit for developer who didn’t deal with asbestos

The firm was initially caught in the act, after it attempted to bring materials from a demolition at 242 Van Horne St. to the Campbell Mountain garbage dump, but was determined not to have followed the city’s orders at the time.

Singla Bros. Holdings had obtained a demolition permit from the city, which had expired by the time demolitions began. On the permit was an order to properly remove the asbestos before destruction.

On Dec. 1, a WorkSafeBC report issued a stop work order, due to “reasonable grounds to believe there is a high risk of serious injury, serious illness or death to a worker at this workplace,” according to a report at the time.

By Dec. 16, the WorkSafe inspector was satisfied that abatement had been completed.

Asked for comment on WorkSafeBC’s reasoning for the amount in the fine a spokesperson pointed to their website, which indicates a balance of the severity of the violation, the company’s history of violations and the size of the company’s payroll.

“Penalties can be greater if certain specific factors are present, such as for high-risk or intentional violations, or if the company has received a prior penalty for substantially the same violation in the past three years.”

Asked if he felt the fine fit the violation, Kunka said he was satisfied with WorkSafeBC’s decision. Singla Bros. gave a brief email statement on the issue.

“We are working with WorkSafeBC with any projects we have now or in the future. No other comment at this time.”

Kunka said he is aware of other projects that Singla Bros. Holdings has gotten to work on since the incident, adding that the city is hoping to build up trust with the firm.

A new city bylaw

At the time, Kunka said the city was looking at ways to mitigate the risks of similar incidents in the future. In an interview this week, Kunka told the Western News they’re currently working on a rewrite of the buildings bylaw, which could clean up the language, among other things.

In the new regulations, Kunka says rather than issuing a permit with an order to remove hazardous materials, the city will withhold permits until they’ve received proof that abatement is either unnecessary or finished if the building is older than 1992.

“Based on this and another one kind of on the edge of non-compliance, we decided we would be a little more rigorous on the front-end stuff, regarding the paperwork and the remediation,” Kunka said.

“That will be our mantra from now on: if it’s an old building, get the hazard assessment done, you deal with your abatement issues, and then you can come to us and we can move through the demolition process.”

The other incident involved a firm that began demolishing a building before getting the go-ahead from the city.

The new regulations get a bit more complicated when it comes to work being done involving evictions to renovate, which require proof of a demolition permit to legally evict.

In a sort of workaround, the city is looking to enter contractual agreements that the city will provide a demolition permit, providing some paperwork proving the intent of eviction is for a cause, but also avoiding handing out the actual permit before demolitions.

“Probably two out of 10 demolition permits revolve around renters and ensuring that that process is followed properly,” Kunka said, acknowledging the process could incur some confusion.

“The more steps you add, the more confusing you get. We’ve actually been working on a checklist or kind of a flowchart, so, again, somebody asking about a demolition permit, they can actually follow this flowchart.”

That’s part of the key to avoiding issues in the first place — education. Kunka said the city would rather inform and avoid issues than have to impose penalties after, adding that the city is looking to hold some events with developers to ramp up knowledge of the proper processes.

“We want to make sure people are aware of the rules. We can help them through that process. We figure in the way we were laying it out now, it’s going to be a really … clear process,” he said. “As long as they’re following the rules, everybody’s protected, and things move quickly.”

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