Outdated safety management systems at volunteer fire departments and lack of an organization-wide safety program will cost a local government $10,000 a year.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen received $31,137 in rebates on its WorkSafeBC premiums over three years, but lost the incentive when it failed an external safety audit this spring.
The audit, which cost $10,815, assessed nine areas, such as accident investigations, safety committees and worker training.
“We are a safe organization. Just because we had some infractions, or we’ve got some challenges in front of us, doesn’t mean we’re not safe,” said RDOS internal safety auditor Dale Kronebusch.
The rebates were made available through a voluntary Certificate of Recognition program created by WorkSafeBC and managed by industry groups.
n 2010, the RDOS was the first local government in B.C. to undergo a COR audit, which it passed, and was the first to undergo the mandatory three-year follow-up.
A copy of the executive summary from the audit report was provided to the Western News by the RDOS, although names of “peripheral units,” like fire departments and parks and recreation commissions, were removed.
The Western News has filed a freedom of information request for a copy of the full report.
Kronebusch said the RDOS wants to protect the organizations in question because they’re mainly staffed by volunteers.
“It would reflect poorly on what they’re doing, and let’s face it: They’re volunteers and we feel proud of them and they’re committed to the community,” he said.
The executive summary notes the 2010 audit graded the peripherals with other core operations, which “watered down” their poor scores, but the 2013 edition evaluated the peripherals as separate entities.
“As the employer, the RDOS is responsible for managing the safety of the parks and recreation commission employees, which does not currently meet requirements,” the summary stated.
“Similarly, the fire departments also act independently in terms of safety management with no guidance or active involvement from the RDOS.
“Neither of the two departments audited used the RDOS safety management system, both relying on existing, out of date systems.”
Kronebusch suggested the failures related to inadequate record-keeping.
“Some of the areas, they’ve got the right equipment, they may have the meetings, but they may not mark down the minutes and that sort of thing as accurately as they probably should,” he said.
The RDOS scored 554 out of a possible 1,000 points on the audit, down from 810 in 2010. Organizations need 800 points to pass.
The decrease was attributed to “a combination of factors,” according to the report summary, but was mainly “due to the fact the safety program is not proactively managed on an ongoing basis.”
It goes on to note, “few of the recommendations from the 2010 audit were implemented,” among them a suggestion to create “a single safety management system that applied to all regional district operations.”
Kronebusch said his team started working through the most important recommendations, but subsequent internal audits meant the list kept growing, and the development of a safety system was complicated by the range of work conditions faced by RDOS employees.
Cathy Cook, executive director of the B.C. Municipal Safety Association, said simulations she’s run do not suggest the new online audit system that separates out peripheral organizations will result in a flood of recertification failures in other places.
“All that does is give the organization a clearer picture of the higher-hazard occupations,” she said.
“It does not result in failure.”.
Chief Brad Fossett of the Willowbrook Volunteer Fire Department said his group was not among those audited, and he’s “not the least bit concerned” about the report.
“Every meeting that we have (and) every training session that we have is all about worker safety, because we’re firefighters,” he said.
“We’re going into circumstances that we know are unsafe, so we’re always trying to train towards the safest method of doing something.”
Fossett said the lack of an RDOS-wide safety system “is a non-issue in my mind.”
The executive summary credited the RDOS with fostering a strong awareness of safety among most departments, having foundation documents in place and available, and making safety a topic at most meetings.