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B.C. prison accused of safety violations during arson incident

Fire reportedly broke out in segregation unit


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following a fire that reportedly occurred in the prison’s segregation unit in January, the Fraser Regional Correction Centre (FRCC) in Maple Ridge, B.C. has until April 21 to comply with orders from an occupational health and safety inspector, resulting from alleged safety violations during the incident.

FRCC employees were assigned to the area to control the fire and help evacuate inmates on Jan. 20, but were not wearing proper respiratory protection, according to a WorkSafeBC inspection report, a copy of which was obtained by COHSN. The March 31 report also accused the employer of failing to make sure that workers were adequately trained in proper procedures for such an incident.

“These workers were at risk of injury from exposure to unknown concentrations of gas and vapours contained in the smoke and fire,” the WorkSafeBC report read. “The employer has not provided their workers with adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure the health and safety of those workers in carrying out their work.”

Self-contained breathing apparatuses are not available at the facility, and the local fire department will not respond to fires in inmate-occupied areas while inmates are not secured, WorkSafeBC added.

The incident allegedly resulted in 19 correctional officers needing medical attention for smoke inhalation as well as burning eyes and lungs, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union claimed in January (COHSN, Jan. 26).

WorkSafeBC ordered the FRCC to have a qualified person assess the effectiveness of using one fire extinguisher, specifically concerning “the types of fires one extinguisher can be safely used on before workers, who may not be wearing an appropriate respirator, are exposed to a risk of injury.” The employer also has to revise its written procedures on fire extinguishers and evacuation procedures and then train workers in the updated procedures.

In an e-mailed response, the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety (MPS) told COHSN that it was working closely with WorkSafeBC to respond to the latter’s recommendations in a Notice of Compliance report.

But the MPS also said that reports had exaggerated about the incident. The Ministry stated that two FRCC inmates had tried to set a mattress on fire with contraband matches, but had failed because the mattress had been fire-retardant, resulting only in smoke. Employees evacuated inmates from the unit quickly and calmly, the MPS added, and only two correctional officers needed time off work; one of them returned the next day, and the other came back after a few weeks.

The Ministry also claimed that it had sent 15 other employees to get medical checks, but only out of caution. No injuries were found among these workers, the MPS said.

The WorkSafeBC report noted that the FRCC could be subject to penalties under the province’s Workers Compensation Act if it does not comply with the orders. The facility had contravened Section 115 (2)(e) of the Act, the report said.

The MPS said that its policy currently does not require correctional employees to perform firefighting duties and that all correctional centres in the province have regular fire-drill training. It added that it would consider how to strengthen its policies and training based on WorkSafeBC’s recommendations.