The Town of Lake Cowichan is adopting new measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees, although some citizens planning home renovations or demolitions may not be happy with the resulting policy.
At the town’s Sept. 13 finance and administration committee meeting, councillors discussed the draft policy put forward by staff setting out new conditions to obtain building or demolition permits for all buildings in Lake Cowichan constructed before 1990. The town currently does not have a policy in place that would safeguard its building inspectors against potentially encountering hazardous materials in private homes, particularly asbestos.
The move comes as a result of two asbestos-related stop work orders issued to private property owners by WorkSafeBC this summer. In each case, the owners had received permits from the town for their work.
According to a report from WorkSafeBC, an inspector from the agency inquired “about the processes used by the town to ensure that hazardous materials are effectively managed at job sites where the town’s building inspector is required to go,” and received assurances the town will take steps to manage this matter.
The new policy states that all town employees entering buildings or facilities “of a vintage that is pre-1990 and therefore liable to contain asbestos” must follow guidelines established by the Respirator Program and understand the Asbestos Exposure Control Plan, both of which the town has already adopted.
For citizens and property owners, the policy outlines new conditions for building or demolition permit applications.
To be granted either, the applicant must complete a hazard declaration, obtain a hazardous materials survey report done by a qualified professional, adhere to Part 20 of WorkSafeBC’s asbestos guidelines and “any other relevant hazardous materials information.”
Chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez presented the new policy to council.
“I looked at other communities at what they have done and I’ve revised some of our forms to make sure that a work site’s protected,” he said.
He emphasized the need for a hazardous material assessment is not only for large-scale renovations or changes.
“Any time you touch the building. Unless you’re building a shelf. Any time the building inspector or employee goes into a building to inspect something,” he said.
Fernandez did not give an estimate of how much the average hazardous material assessment would cost property owners in Lake Cowichan, but he said they can be a lot.
“It’s cost us a whole bunch of money to do assessments on this building alone,” he said, referring to municipal office, which is slated for renovations later this year.
Councillor Lorna Vomacka expressed concern about potential unintended consequences of a policy like this.
“I’m just seeing this leading to people not taking out permits,” she said. “I think that’s what’s going to happen when they’re renovating, they’re just going to go in and hope that no one catches them.”
Other councillors agreed this could happen.
“I fully understand what everybody’s saying here,” said mayor Ross Forrest. “But the issue is, this isn’t the town that’s stipulating, this is WorkSafeBC. And if we’re aware of [renovations without proper assessments] we’re going to be responsible for it.”
He said unless the town has a policy like this in place, it will potentially face liability lawsuits or fines. Its employees could also be exposed to dangerous materials like asbestos.
WorkSafeBC did not levy fines against the town for not already having a policy like this in place.
The proposed policy concludes by stating that when the town becomes aware of demolitions or renovations conducted without following the proper processes, those infractions will be reported to WorkSafeBC.