Editorial: Clear out patients while asbestos removal underway

Interior Health knows accidents happen, so it should take extra precautions while getting rid of hazardous material

Accidents happen.

If anyone should know that, it’s the folks at the Interior Health Authority, which exists partly to patch up the results of human follies.

So it makes you wonder why Interior Health believes regulations alone will keep staff and patients safe during asbestos removal work currently underway on the maternity ward at Penticton Regional Hospital.

One patient, who was parked in a room next door to one that is being remediated, said she would have refused to stay there had nurses told her what was going on behind closed doors.

A hospital administrator said all necessary precautions required by WorkSafeBC are being taken, such as sealing off the room and keeping it under negative air pressure to prevent escape of asbestos fibres.

Plus, a separate consultant has been hired to keep an eye on the work and test the air quality in the space around the remediation zone.

That’s great, but to err is human.

If one of the workers slips up or a piece of plastic rips, then what?

The danger is only heightened when you consider the work is being done on the maternity ward where little lungs are taking their first breaths.

Proponents of the plan to build a new tower at PRH will tell you often that the hospital routinely runs at 110 per cent of capacity.

Obviously it would be difficult to temporarily relocate patients and staff while much-needed remediation work is underway, but not impossible.

Interior Health should be commended for dealing with its asbestos problem, but it should also immediately remove those people who would be in harm’s way if things did go sideways.