The Sorrento Centre, an Anglican-operated retreat and conference centre in south-central British Columbia, has been issued a fine of $14,384 by the provincial government for allegedly allowing workers to work in the presence of exposed asbestos.
The centre was levied the fine because it “allowed workers to access and perform work in an area where there was damaged and exposed asbestos without using adequate personal protective equipment or safe work procedures,” states a report released this fall by WorkSafeBC, a provincial body charged with promoting workplace health and safety.
The Sorrento Centre says it has paid the fine, and is also appealing it.
WorkSafeBC levied the fine on May 29 after an investigation into the workplace, the basement of an administrative building at the facility.
The centre, the report states, “should first have ensured that all friable asbestos-containing materials were removed or enclosed so as to prevent the release of asbestos fibres. These designated high-risk violations may have exposed workers to asbestos, a known carcinogen.”
Carcinogens are cancer-causing substances. Asbestos was used extensively as a building material in the late 19th century and early 20th century, but in more recent decades, as concerns about its effects on human health began to mount, its use in construction has been gradually phased out.
According to a statement prepared by the centre, the fine stems from an incident on February 24, when a heating contractor was brought in to work in the basement of one of the facility’s older buildings.
“We were informed by a contractor that there could be asbestos in the area,” the centre’s statement reads. “Sorrento Centre immediately closed off the area of concern and restricted access, informing all staff that the area was not to be accessed until it was deemed safe by a professional assessor.”
According to the centre, it then immediately hired a hazardous materials management service. At the same time, after this process had begun, an officer from WorkSafe BC arrived to investigate, the centre says.
Testing, the centre says, then confirmed the presence of asbestos. Tests of the area of main concern, according to its statement, found that the floor and shelf dust contained asbestos in the range of only one to five per cent, and that there was no asbestos at all in the air. For the safety of staff and guests, air on the main level of the building was also tested; these tests also came back negative, the centre says.
“Removal and/or proper containment of the asbestos alongside a proper clean-up was performed by an authorized company,” the statement reads. The centre continued to restrict access to the area until it met the WorkSafeBC requirements and was declared a safe space. “A complete hazardous material testing is being performed on all buildings, older than 1990, on the Sorrento Centre site to ensure a safe environment for all employees, guests and visitors,” the Sorrento statement continues.
The centre is encouraging anyone with concerns about this incident to contact it for more information.