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Audit shows asbestos troubles continued on BC Ferries

A BC Ferries official worried in an email that continued problems with asbestos would leave the publicly owned company vulnerable to a $150,000 fine if its management of the material again comes to WorkSafe BC's attention.

In 2010 the cafeteria on the Queen of Burnaby, running between Comox and Powell River, was temporarily closed while WorkSafe BC investigated and BC Ferries conducted tests on loose material. Inhaled asbestos fibres can cause various often fatal diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Documents released today under a freedom of information request by the B.C. Coastal Transportation Society show asbestos continued to be a concern two years later on the Queen of Burnaby and other vessels, including inaccurate labeling of where it is present.

"I am concerned re the decaling issue on the ship not reflecting the inventory report," wrote Kathleen Aslett, BC Ferries' manager of occupational safety and health in a June 18, 2012 email about the Queen of Burnaby's asbestos safety audit.

"This was a major issue that was sited in the fine administered against the ship in 2010 (and on the [Quadra Queen II]) so to see that this remains a deficiency is troubling as a second inspection by WSBC where this remains an issue will bring an automatic $150,000 fine," she wrote to Darren Johnston, the executive director of safety and security for BC Ferries.

"I cannot state how urgent this must be to get right. I strongly recommend that this be addressed without delay," Aslett said.

A Sept. 4, 2012 report summarised the asbestos audits on 10 vessels. Seven of them had problems: the Queen of Alberni, the Mayne Queen, the Bowen Queen, the North Island Princess, the Tenaka, the Tachek and the Queen of Burnaby.

Besides decaling, problems included:

"Emergency response kits either absent or missing key components";

"Crew unfamiliar with Emergency Response equipment and duties";

"Lack of understanding of company Safety Manual Emergency Response Plan"; and

"Dated Training; original contingency training is often years ago and the lack of updated training or refresher training being offered, seasoned crew find they are unprepared to respond to a spill or failing ACM material incident with knowledge and confidence."

A WorkSafe BC official did not immediately respond to questions.

In 2009 the Merchant Law Group filed a class action lawsuit against BC Ferries on behalf of people exposed to asbestos on the Quadra Queen II.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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