Where is employee safety most at-risk?

Bosses across the Fraser Valley were penalized for endangering the safety of its workers. Abbotsford employers were responsible for the most number of fines in the last five years.

By Joti Grewal | November 25, 2022 |5:00 am

The Abbotsford Canucks organization is one of many Fraser Valley employers that have been fined for endangering the safety of its workers.

The Canucks were one of dozens of employers fined over the last five years. Employers in Abbotsford netted far more fines between 2017 and 2021 than those in other local communities, a review of WorkSafeBC penalties shows. The Fraser Valley’s construction sector is the worst for endangering worker safety.

But that’s not all that stood out.

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Employers in Abbotsford were issued the most number of violations in the Fraser Valley in 2021, the same was true five years prior. Fines in the city increased by nearly one-and-half times during that time despite roughly the same number of employers being penalized. In the last five years, Abbotsford employers were issued a total of 137 fines amounting to more than $1,500,000.

While trends for this year are not yet available, penalties are published online.

In June, the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks rink was inspected by WorkSafeBC following a previous incident where a worker was seriously injured. A sheet of Plexiglass fell onto a staff member while they were moving it from the ice rink to a storage area using a lift truck. The inspection revealed that lift truck operators had not been adequately trained, and “required topics” were not included in training for new and young workers. As a result, the Abbotsford Canucks were fined $5,400.

Earlier in the year, a trades company working in Abbotsford was hit with a $15,000 fine after lying to WorkSafeBC. Coastal Wall Systems was fined $15,000 in January for poor handling of asbestos-containing material. WorkSafeBC found the company failed to protect its workers, educate them, and to safely contain and remove all hazardous materials. This fine issued for inadequate abatement work is not unique to this company or worksite in Abbotsford. The trades company “knowingly provided a WorkSafeBC officer with false information.” The report doesn’t indicate what that information was.

One of the largest fines WorkSafeBC handed out last year in the valley was to convenience store giant 7-Eleven. The owner of Langley 7-Eleven stores was issued a nearly $340,000 fine in July after a routine inspection. WorkSafeBC inspected two of the employer’s shops and found they failed to meet the company’s violence prevention program requirements for working late at night. Workers at both locations were without a personal emergency transmitter, tills at one site contained more cash than stated on signage, and the display of lotto tickets had not been scaled down. WorkSafeBC noted it was a repeated violation.

Langley employers were issued only six violations last year, 22 fewer than Abbotsford, but they represented the largest fine total in the valley: nearly half a million dollars. In the last five years, Langley employers have been fined four times fewer than Abbotsford employers but they’ve amassed the largest fine total: $1,590,000.

Both Mission and Chilliwack were risked employee safety the same number of times in the last five years, but Chilliwack’s fine total was far greater. Chilliwack employers paid nearly 9.5 times more than Mission from 2017 to 2021. Last year, Chilliwack employers were issued 11 fines amounting to nearly $58,000. Most of that fine was attributed to a landscape company.

The company was fined nearly $30,000 in January 2021 for repeated violations after “a close-call incident.” A subcontracted driver was lowering the box of a dump truck to deliver soil into a ditch when it struck a power line. WorkSafeBC learned the landscape company “had manually removed the downed power line from the truck without ensuring it had been de-energized.” The company also failed to deliver a safety orientation to the hired driver and inform workers of potential energized hazards. The company appealed the fine with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal and it was rejected.

Meanwhile, employers in Kent/Agassiz have never been fined since 2017. In the last five years, only one Hope employer was found to have risked employer safety in 2021 and was fined $1,250.

Construction is the sector with the highest number of fines in the Fraser Valley, WorkSafeBC told The Current. Within that sector the following classifications had the greatest number of fines: framing or residential forming; steep slope roofing; house or other wood frame general contracting, construction, or renovation work; siding, awning, or gutter service; and asbestos abatement or mould remediation.

Last year, WorkSafeBC issued a total of 359 fines across the province, totalling roughly $7.9 million. The largest-ever fine charged was in 2014 for more than $1 million.

WorkSafeBC is a century-old agency that is meant to operate independent of the government. The organization’s goal is to prevent workplace injury and death, as well as to compensate those injured. See a list of incident investigations dating back to 2013 here.

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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