B.C. reports $4.4M safety penalties imposed in 2009

WorkSafeBC imposed a record total penalty of more than $4.4 million against employers last year for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and the Workers Compensation Act, according to the agency’s 2009 Penalty Report.

In 2009, 211 penalties were imposed against 190 employers, ranging from $1,000 to $250,000. The previous record amount was of $4.2 million for 221 penalties imposed in 2007.

The highest penalty in 2009 was imposed against Canadian Natural Resources Limited for an incident in which a young worker fell from a work platform on a drilling rig after it was engulfed in flames following an uncontrolled release of gas from a wellbore. The firm failed to ensure the health and safety of its own workers and other workers where its work was being done. In particular, it failed to analyze the risks arising from work activities and to implement safe work procedures as required under the Regulation, WorkSafeBC said. Workers 15 to 24 years of age are classified as young workers by WorkSafeBC.

A total of 16 incidents for which an employer was penalized in 2009 involved a fatality.

“Employers must take seriously their responsibility to ensure their workplace is healthy and safe for all workers,” said Roberta Ellis, vice-president of the policy, investigations and review division at WorkSafeBC. “A penalty is not imposed if an employer is found to have taken all reasonable care to prevent a violation.”

Employers from 67 industry classifications received penalties last year. Companies in five construction-related classifications accounted for more than half (58.7%) of the penalties imposed in 2009. These industry classifications are: steep slope roofing; house or other wood frame general contracting, construction or renovation work; framing or residential forming; low slope roofing; and, industrial, commercial, institutional or high-rise residential general contracting or construction.

“WorkSafeBC has increased its inspection and investigation capacity, directing a more intensive focus to the industries and employers that present the highest risk to workers, including construction sites, and employers where compliance has been known to be an issue — such as roofing”, said Ellis. “In 2008, we developed a team of 16 prevention officers to focus on residential construction.”

WorkSafeBC imposes penalties where there has been a serious and/or repeated violation of occupational health and safety laws and regulations; where a sanction is required to motivate the specific employer to comply with the law; and, where the sanction can act as a deterrent for others.

Penalties imposed may be appealed to the Review Division of WorkSafeBC and employers can appeal Review Division decisions to an external and independent appeal body — the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal. Approximately 90 per cent of penalties are upheld on appeal, according to WorkSafeBC.

Penalty amounts will vary year over year due to the size of employers penalized (employers with larger payrolls are assessed higher penalties) and the seriousness of the violations. In certain circumstances, claim costs may be applied in addition to the penalty; and in extraordinary circumstances, WorkSafeBC has the ability to go beyond prescribed limits and increase the penalty amount. The maximum penalty amount is adjusted yearly. The maximum penalty amount for 2009 was $565,329.86, WorkSafeBC said.