CHILLIWACK (NEWS 1130) – WorkSafeBC has issued more than 220 orders to dozens of employers across the province who broke rules meant to protect workers from the novel coronavirus, according to records obtained by NEWS 1130 via a freedom of information request.
More than 1,600 pages of inspection reports show the agency found more than 170 businesses – including taxi services, restaurants, construction firms and candy stores – lacked a COVID-19 safety plan or had inadequate workplace measures in place.
The records include initial inspections that happened on or before Sept. 22 and follow-up reports tracking compliance.
In most cases, the employers complied with the orders by the time WorkSafe followed up.
But three businesses were either cited or threatened with a fine or citation for failing to comply with coronavirus-related orders by a given deadline: a Chilliwack pizza shop, a North Vancouver gym and a Nanaimo dental office.
Pizza shop lacked safety plan, distancing tools
During a routine food safety inspection on June 30, a Fraser Health environmental health officer found several hazards at Demetre’s Pizza in Chilliwack, including uncovered food, improperly labelled cleaning supplies and unsanitary conditions. The inspector also noted the restaurant lacked a COVID-19 safety plan.
Subsequent inspections found Demetre’s complied with the health authority’s orders, but Fraser Health’s inspection appears to have prompted WorkSafe to perform one of its own.
On July 3, WorkSafe “informed this employer that a COVID-19 safety plan must be created and implemented immediately.”
Nearly three weeks later, Demetre’s still didn’t have a plan, according to an inspection report.
“I observed no physical distancing tools in place to ensure that customers will stay at least two meters from one another and from the staff,” the inspector wrote following a July 21 inspection.
The pizza shop also lacked a barrier to protect staff working the till and a record or plan for cleaning surfaces, the report says.
A subsequent inspection on Aug. 4 found there was still no plan and said there were grounds to impose a citation or penalty but did not do so. Ten days later, the WorkSafe report says there was still no plan and the pizza shop was fined $542.
To date, Demetre’s is the only business in B.C. to be fined for coronavirus-related infractions, a WorkSafe spokesperson said.
On Aug. 21, WorkSafe reported Demetre’s was in compliance with all orders.
Demetre’s co-owner Matt Hamilton said he paid the fine and is adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols.
He said he was “a little confused” by the requirements first asked of him in early July.
“I’m here like seven days a week. I work an awful lot and I was remiss in getting it to them in time,” Hamilton said of the safety plan.
“I can’t say anything other than the fact that, yeah, I just didn’t comply quick enough and I suggest to everybody else that they get right on it and do it and not drag their feet on it.”
Hamilton said he submitted safety plans before the follow-up reports that found his business in non-compliance, but he was told they weren’t detailed enough.
At time of writing, WorkSafe had not answered questions about Hamilton’s version of events.
Insufficient distancing protocols at North Van gym
WorkSafe also found a number of issues at Fitness World Lonsdale in North Vancouver on Sept. 11.
The inspector noted the gym had a COVID-19 safety plan and workers were wearing masks, “but the plan does not adequately address effective controls to ensure physical distance between workers and others is maintained whenever possible in the workplace.”
The gym had set maximum capacities for the whole facility, as well as certain rooms, but “there was no evidence that the posted occupancy limit was established to reflect a reasonable limit that would maintain the minimum required physical distance,” the report said.
“A cardio workout activity creates heavier breathing and may require more than the minimum two-metre physical distance,” the inspector noted.
The inspector said a passageway in and out of the weight room was “bordered on both sides by exercise equipment.”
“Workers were observed walking past customers using the nearby equipment or using the aisleway and did not maintain the minimum two-metre distance. There were no signs, barriers, floor markings, procedures or other controls in place to ensure physical distance between workers and others was maintained,” the report says.
There were also “no established controls” in a pair of elevators the gym shares with other businesses in the building. Fitness World had a responsibility to coordinate with the building owner to ensure signs indicating occupancy limits and cleaning protocols were posted, the inspector said.
Two weeks later, WorkSafe returned to the gym. An inspector found “no evidence” of an overall occupancy limit for the gym, signs in the weight room passageway that were “not effective because customers and workers were observed closer than two metres” and no new protocols in place for the elevators.
Cleanliness, safety a ‘top priority’: Fitness World
“A citation warning has been issued to the employer because the order has not been complied with in a reasonable amount of time,” the inspector wrote.
In a third inspection on Oct. 7, an inspector found re-arranged equipment, barriers, and occupancy limits in both the gym and the elevators and determined all the orders had been complied with.
In a statement, Fitness World said it “has worked with WorkSafe, the City of North Vancouver and the provincial health authorities to ensure we are compliant with the COVID-19 Safety Plans in all of the clubs.”
“We have complied with any feedback or requests as they are made by any safety or health authority,” the statement provided by the chain’s public relations firm said. “Fitness World will continue to keep cleanliness and our members’ safety as a top priority.”
The gym chain said it has had “no COVID-19 related issues” at its Lonsdale location.
Nanaimo dentist missed safety plan deadline
WorkSafe also found there were grounds for a citation against Dr. B.J. Wadson Inc., a dental office in Nanaimo.
On Sept. 1, the firm was lacking a COVID-19 safety plan and was given a Sept. 18 deadline to submit one, according to an inspection report. On Oct. 8, “it was determined that the employer had not yet developed and implemented their written COVID-19 safety plan,” an inspector wrote.
The inspector said they provided information on how to develop such a plan and pointed the dental office to resources from the BC Centre for Disease Control and the College of Dental Surgeons of BC.
“Based upon the failure to comply with this order, there are grounds for imposing an [occupational health and safety] citation or administrative penalty,” the inspector wrote.
But it does not appear WorkSafe imposed such measures on the dental office. According to a report filed on Oct. 23, the firm submitted a safety plan on Oct. 14, followed by an updated version a week later and was found in compliance with the order.
Short-staffing caused paperwork delay: dentist
Wadson sold his practice to another dentist, Dr. Brayan Farzim, in February. They both currently work there.
Farzim told NEWS 1130 he was sorry for the delay in filing the correct paperwork.
He said the dental office where he and Wadson both practice was short-staffed, with only one person working the front desk, who did not inform him of WorkSafe’s deadline.
“It was really crazy, overwhelming,” Farzim said, adding his imperfect English skills meant it took him several days to write the safety plan.
The dentist said his office has implemented strict coronavirus protocols, including physical distancing, a lowered capacity and the use of personal protective equipment.
According to its online registry, both Farzim and Wadson are in good standing with the provincial dental college.