WorkSafeBC must justify how it established a fine for the Vernon School District. (graphic submitted)

EDITORIAL: WorkSafe penalty raises concerns

One arm of the government is taking away money another arm gave the Vernon School District

It was likely coincidence, but the Vernon School District revealed details of a massive fine on the same day that it was seeking public input on the budget for the coming year.

WorkSafeBC has levied an administrative penalty of $628,034 for violating the occupational health and safety regulation. Obviously WorkSafe must ensure employee safety, and the issue of asbestos must be taken seriously.

Initially, the fine will be paid out of a $1 million contingency fund the district has for emergencies. But like any reserves, that money will have to be repaid and that could leave the district short of cash in future years, including for programs.

What’s particularly concerning is the $628,034 comes from the overall funding package the district receives from the provincial government. In the end, one arm of the government is clawing back what another arm had provided.

WorkSafe’s formula for determining the scope of the fine should also be questioned. Only a few district workers would have ever been on scene in the Open Door building as work was being done, but the fine is assessed on the district’s entire workforce of 850 employees. How is that fair?

In the end, the school district is appealing the fine and some form of penalty may still have to be paid. But hopefully the final outcome includes WorkSafe reviewing how fines are accrued and where the money actually comes from.