Record Manitoba workplace safety fine

City failed to protect workers from asbestos

The City of Winnipeg has been ordered to pay a $90,000 fine after admitting it failed to ensure that contract workers were not exposed to asbestos.

This is the largest penalty ever imposed in Manitoba for a workplace safety violation. The previous record was set in March when a construction company was ordered to pay $75,000 after a worker died while painting a bridge. The maximum fine for a first offence under Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health Act is $150,000.

The three or four employees of Econo Ceilings who worked on the city’s Transcona pool project have not displayed any medical problems yet, though it may take years before lung damage or cancer caused by exposure to airborne asbestos shows up.

The city sprayed the pool’s ceiling with asbestos 25 years ago to reduce noise. It then sealed it and covered it with a suspended ceiling. Over time, the anchors supporting the suspended ceiling rusted and tiles began falling. Econo Ceilings was hired to do the repairs, but the city failed to warn the workers about the asbestos.

In fact, the asbestos wasn’t discovered until after the repairs were completed – and then only when one of the workers became concerned and sent in a piece of the fallen material for testing. A 1997 memo in the city’s aquatic supervisor’s files warned about the presence of asbestos, but he had either forgotten about it or neglected to read it.

Provincial Court Judge Robert Kopstein criticized the city for allowing the negligence of one person to result in the “surprising and frightening” collapse of its workplace safety measures. He imposed the record-setting fine in recognition of both the seriousness of the workers’ potential health problems and the city’s ability to pay the large amount.

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