The City of Fernie has voted to hire a full-time Safety Management System (SMS) Resource employee, which will satisfy the eighth and final order issued by WorkSafeBC to the City. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press/File

City of Fernie works to satisfy final WorkSafeBC order

According to Elk Valley RCMP, the investigation into the events at Fernie Memorial Arena is ongoing

The City of Fernie has voted to bring on a full-time employee in the position of Safety Management System (SMS) Resource, making moves to satisfy the eighth and final order issued by WorkSafeBC following the fatal ammonia leak nearly two years ago.

This initiative involves revamping and improving their Safety Management Systems, and prepares the City of Fernie for certification by the BC Municipal Safety Association, explained in greater detail later in this report.

In October 2017, three men were killed by ammonia exposure while trying to fix an ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena.

“The employer is requested to provide WorkSafeBC with an executive summary in recommendations for improvements of the current safety management system audit when it’s completed,” read the order by WorkSafeBC.

“The employer is also requested to notify WorkSafeBC when the outstanding action items noticed in this notice of compliance order, are completed.”

Mayor and council voted on the new position at their regular meeting of council on the night of Monday, August 26, with the hope that it will improve workplace safety throughout their departments.

In addition to satisfying the order by WorkSafeBC, this is also part of a project by the City of Fernie to obtain a Local Government Certificate of Recognition (COR) from the BC Municipal Safety Association (BCMSA). The next phase of the project was to hire an SMS Resource employee on a limited two-year contract. New roles of the employee include working with the health and safety committee to create new policies, procedures, systems, and establish a training program to execute elements of the new SMS, as well as position the organization (City) for a successful application to obtain COR certification.

The City received eighteen applicants for the position, of which they narrowed down to three. One of the three proposed to work remotely from Edmonton, the other was hesitant to move to Fernie for just two years employment, and the third did not show up for their interview.

Together, based on this, the Directors and Interim CAO requested approval from Council to allocate taxation growth from 2018 to fund this as a full-time permanent position.

The proposed term position was listed as having a $75,000 annual salary for two years, funded through taxation growth from 2018 in future years.

Interim CAO Don Schaffer said he believes there is more than two years worth of work to be done in the safety sector; first laying the groundwork, followed by management of the systems and ensuring they stay up to date.

Schaffer said a full-time safety management position is not common practice in other municipalities their size, however, he said that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t bring on a full-time employee.

“Given the criticisms that we were subject to in the months following the arena incident, we just feel that there’s an awful lot of work to be done that needs to be done properly, and with lasting effect,” said Schaffer.

Schaffer was asked if there was a need to turn this term position into a permanent one.

“I believe that aside from just laying the groundwork, there’s management that needs to be done for our systems, and currently, while I believe that staff does their best to make sure that everything is up to date and up to industry standards, potentially that might – that’s not the case,” said Schaffer.

“And frankly, had I been here at the outset of that discussion I would have recommended a full-time person be brought on right at the outset, simply because safety – worker safety has to be a priority and we need to demonstrate our commitment to the safety of our workers,” said Schaffer.

He added it’s difficult to do this while hiring someone for only a few years.

Mayor Ange Qualizza agreed with Schaffer.

“In this industry there’s a saying, that if you invest in the culture, the safety culture, you save money,” she said, adding that other industries have proven this to be true for years already.

Qualizza said the WorkSafeBC and Technical Safety BC reports show them (the City) “not resourced that attention to safety, in a variety of reasons”.

“We just went through a public works tour, where it was told to us that the far section of the public works field, was for lack of better words, a dump,” said Qualizza.

“There is a culture in this organization that needs to shift, we need to start paying attention to safety, and I will be supporting having a full-time person to own that system because I think it’s important. And I’ve been here for five years and I’ve seen that we need it.”

Schaffer said that although a town the size of Fernie doesn’t typically take on a full-time SMS position, Fernie has enough facilities (swimming pool, curling rink, arena, public works building) to keep the new employee busy.

“All of those different things have different challenges, all those activities carry with them inherent dangers,” he said.

Qualizza said the one of the things that happened as a result of the arena tragedy, was that ammonia systems in rinks around the province were improved. In total, 181 ammonia rinks and recreation facilities were examined by WorkSafeBC, with 1,134 safety deficiencies cited.

“I honestly believe that this position is going to become – it’s required in so many other industries – this white-collar sort of industry has been a little bit complacent for a little bit long in my opinion,” she said.

Schaffer said he hopes to have the new full-time position posting formulated within the first few weeks of September. City staff have a goal of completing the COR certification by December 31, 2020. This date, they explained, was not imposed by WorkSafeBC. The final order by WorkSafeBC will remain open until the City moves forward with the hiring of their resource position, and demonstrate to the organization that they have strengthened their SMS program.

The City explained that they committed to COR certification to, “help evaluate the implementation of enhanced SMS policies and procedures.”

They say the full-time SMS resource employee will be instrumental in supporting the ongoing strength and sustainability of the SMS program.

According to the Elk Valley RCMP, the investigation into the events at Fernie Memorial Arena is ongoing, and there are no updates at this time.

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