Fine leaves district reeling

WorkSafeBC has levied an administrative penalty of $628,034 against the Vernon School District

A significant fine could leave the Vernon School District strapped for cash.

WorkSafeBC has levied an administrative penalty of $628,034 for violating the occupational health and safety regulation, and the fine would be paid out of a $1 million contingency fund the district has for emergencies.

“There will be no effect on programs this year. But in future years, we will need to rebuild that contingency fund back up to $1 million,” said Joe Rogers, superintendent.

“We will try to build it back up through surpluses but if there are no surpluses, that could impact programs.”

However, the hope is the district can avoid the full scope of the WorkSafeBC fine.

“We have our lawyers working through the review and appeal process,” said Rogers.

The penalty is linked to work done on a leased property renovated in May 2016 for the district’s Open Door Learning Centre.

“We were given the impression that any asbestos had been removed,” said Rogers.

“It was already renovated and we didn’t believe asbestos was present.”

WorkSafeBC, though, determined the district violated the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation by failing to take sufficient precautions for the prevention of work-related injuries or illnesses, not maintaining a safe workplace or safe working conditions and not exercising due diligence to prevent the circumstances.

“The district and all of its employees take worker and student safety extremely seriously. The district has developed and implemented a comprehensive and fully compliant asbestos management program and asbestos exposure control plan, has retained a qualified person to conduct asbestos surveys, hazard assessments and prepare inventories of all asbestos-containing materials in all buildings operated by the district, and has undertaken comprehensive asbestos training of its maintenance workers,” states a release.

Rogers says the district has not had any discussions with the property owner.

“We will work through the WorkSafe process first and then consider our options,” he said.

As part of the pending appeal, the school district will argue that the fine should not have been based on its total workforce of 850 employees, but should be considered a worksite violation, which has a minimum fine of $1,250.

In terms of the potential implications of the fine on the district’s finances, those aren’t known yet.

“It will depend on how long the WorkSafe appeal process takes and if we have any surplus at the end of the year. The board will need to determine how quickly the contingency needs to be replenished,” said Rogers.

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