B.C.'s workplace safety agency says it is stepping up investigations of workplaces as the BC Federation of Labour calls for penalties and fines to protect workers.
Inspectors will now look at public-health information on where and why clusters are occurring to determine what parts of the province and what kinds of workplaces to focus on, said Al Johnson, head of prevention services for WorkSafeBC.
As an example, he said, WorkSafeBC will take a second look at some workplaces where positive tests and clusters of COVID-19 have occurred. There is interest in manufacturing, food-processing, health care and warehousing, particularly in the area covered by the Fraser Health Authority, which is southeast of Vancouver and covers such cities as Surrey, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge.
“Of course, if we need to go anywhere, we will,” he said.
On Tuesday, the province announced 525 new cases of COVID-19, and three new deaths. The Vancouver Coastal Health region had 159 cases, and the Fraser Health region 325. B.C. had 5,133 active cases, with 9,781 people under public-health monitoring. The province did not report new numbers on Wednesday.
WorkSafeBC has conducted more than 51,000 inspections this year, compared to 40,000 in a normal year. A total of 700 orders to make changes to procedures – “the first motivator to an employer,” Mr. Johnson said – have been issued to employers for health and safety violations. However, the number of fines has been low. An agency spokesman said there has been at least one and maybe a few more.
WorkSafeBC imposes fines based on a percentage of the payroll for repeat non-compliance with orders. These sanctions range from $550 to $650,000. Mr. Johnson said most employers have been willing to make changes, and that none of the highest-range fines have been issued in cases related to COVID-19.
Laird Cronk, president of the BC Federation of Labour, said his organization is urging the province’s government and health officials, and WorkSafeBC, to ensure health orders are followed.
“This should include increased inspections to enforce the orders and the issuing of appropriate penalties and fines if an employer fails to ensure a safe workplace,” Mr. Cronk said in a news release.
When asked in an interview if WorkSafeBC has sufficient resources, he said he would leave that to the agency to answer.
Mr. Johnson said WorkSafeBC has worked closely with the federation. “We want to ensure that workers are safe,” he said. “We are engaging strongly with workplaces out there.”
Mr. Johnson described current work on COVID-19 issues as a “Herculean effort.” He said WorkSafeBC recently received about 800 calls in one day about COVID-19 concerns, and some were referred to officers for follow-up.
“We’re busy, no doubt about it, but we’re able to maintain everything that needs to be done.”
Earlier this week, Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Public Health Officer, said she was calling on businesses across the province to revisit their COVID-19 safety plans.
“Now is the time to do everything you can to ensure you are protecting your employees and your customers, and businesses operating in Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health,” she said.
Employers must ensure that all employees do health checks before they come to work every day, Dr. Henry said.
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