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B.C. report finds workers exposed to inmates’ waste excrement

The North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C., is among the corrections facilities in B.C. with unreasonably high officer-to-inmate ratios, the BCGEU says.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Workers at two provincial correctional facilities are not being given enough training in workplace safety, according to inspection reports by WorkSafeBC.

"Some workers did not receive appropriate training in procedures to minimize exposures to blood and body fluids, in relation to incidents involving an inmate throwing excrement at/on workers," says a Nov. 7, 2012, report on the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre. The employer has implemented "some but not all" elements of an exposure-control plan that would minimize the risks for workers, the report says.

Improving that plan is one of 11 orders in the inspection report, issued under the Workers Compensation Act and obtained by The Globe and Mail.

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Other orders focused on issues such as incident reporting, safety training for contractors who work on site and changing the position and design of furniture, such as work stations that should be higher to create a physical barrier between inmates and staff.

A separate Dec. 5 report on the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre had eight orders, including one related to a plan to deal with workers' exposure to body fluids.

Of the 19 orders in the two reports, 10 have already been addressed, Cindy Rose, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Corrections Branch, said.

"Corrections Branch has been working directly with WorkSafeBC for some time to facilitate and organize these inspections," Ms. Rose said, adding that implementing the recommendations is a priority. Outstanding orders require training to be completed in the coming months or over the next year, she said.

The orders are welcome but don't go far enough, says Dean Purdy, chair of the corrections services division of B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union.

"From our standpoint, it only scratches the surface," Mr. Purdy said on Tuesday. "We're looking to the [Workers' Compensation] board to assist us in dealing with the officer-to-inmate ratios as contributing factors to workplace violence."

The BCGEU last year lobbied for inspections of the nine provincial facilities, citing what the union says is an increased number of attacks on staff.

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"Our employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees and right now that's not being done," Mr. Purdy said.

As a result of double bunking in some facilities, the staff-to-inmate ratio has gone from one officer for every 20 inmates to one for every 40, Mr. Purdy said, adding that the ratio is as high as one to 60 in the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam.

WorkSafe began the inspections last fall and intends to inspect all nine facilities by the end of June.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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