B.C. government fined $710K for unsafe wildfire mitigation work

B.C. government fined $710K for unsafe wildfire mitigation work
Trees burned by the Bush Creek East Wildfire are seen in Squilax, B.C., Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. British Columbia's government has been fined more than $700,000 after an inspection found unsafe wildfire mitigation practices at a site in Wonowon.

British Columbia’s government has been fined more than $700,000 after inspectors say they found unsafe wildfire mitigation practices at a site in the province’s northeast.

A summary posted online by WorkSafeBC says inspectors went to a site near Wonowon, B.C., where trees were being cut down to reduce wildfire fuel, finding evidence of unsafe cuts.

Inspectors say they also found that the provincial government as the employer did not verify faller certification and did not actively monitor work, as required by a safety program.

The $710,488 fine was imposed in October but WorkSafeBC says updates to its online penalty database were delayed for several months due to a staffing vacancy.

The Ministry of Forests said in a statement that it’s “disappointed” by the situation which involved a subcontractor and not anyone affiliated with the BC Wildfire Service.

It said it agrees that “process improvements” are warranted.

“Everyone should be able to perform their work safely. We are taking action, working with all contractors and subcontractors to ensure we meet the high standards we always strive to achieve,” the statement said.

It said it requires all contractors to be certified, including having their own safety program “to ensure safety certification standards are met along with WorkSafeBC regulations.”

The ministry said no one was hurt in the incident and it is “reviewing its safety and contracting processes and procedures” to make sure contactors meet certification requirements to do hazardous work.

The ministry said it plans to appeal the size of the fine it was given, arguing that it was not properly calculated.

“Our view is that the amount of penalty imposed is arbitrary and disproportionately high, as the penalty was calculated using the entire Government of B.C.’s payroll for what we believe should be a specific location infraction,” the statement said.

WorkSafeBC penalties are calculated based on the size of a company’s payroll, but can be increased in some situations including for high-risk violations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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