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BURNABYAn important decision from WorkSafeBC will see CUPE locals in school districts across the province taking a hard look at health and safety issues.

In April 2005, eight members of CUPE 409 in the New Westminster School District were directed to remove flooring in the New Westminster Secondary School. Workers were not advised at the time that the tiling possibly contained asbestos, nor were they wearing any protective equipment for their safety.

Concerns arose when the dust cloud in the hallway became too thick and teaching staff contacted WorkSafeBC, which upon learning that material containing asbestos had been disturbed, shut down the renovation project, and followed up with an inspection report containing 11 orders against the employer.

WorkSafeBC imposed an administrative penalty on the School District, citing as one of the reasons that the employer had created a high risk of serious injury or death and that their violation was ‘knowing’ or ‘with reckless disregard to’ the health and safety of their employees.

We are very concerned if the safety of staff and students has been jeopardized. We also suspect that this situation is not unique to one school or school district and we will be raising it with our locals across the province,” says Barry O’Neill, president of the B.C. division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

There are regulations in place to protect against the kind of situation that occurred in the New Westminster School District. But clearly, all districts need to take another look at their protocols and procedures to make sure they review health and safety implications and consult with affected staff before beginning renovations or construction.”

Marcel Marsolais, president of CUPE 409, is working with his members to address the situation. “It is important for students and staff to be safe and certainly the costs levied on the New West School District for safety breaches should not come at the expense of adequate staffing levels or student services,” he says.