Industrial camp operator fined $200K by WorkSafeBC after worker found dead from COVID-19
Compliance & Enforcement british columbia COVID-19 WorkSafeBC
A camp operator that provides lodging and meals for industrial staff has been fined more than $200,000 by WorkSafeBC after one of its workers contracted COVID-19 and was later found dead.
The COVID-19 outbreak at Sanataa Lodge in Dawson Creek, operated by Horizon North Camp & Catering and Dexterra Group, not only resulted in a worker’s death but also exposed serious deficiencies in the implementation of health and safety protocols, according to redacted reports prepared by WorkSafeBC and obtained by OHS Canada.
Both the incident investigation report by WorkSafeBC and a subsequent inspection report highlight critical failures in adhering to public health orders and implementing a communicable disease prevention plan.
In December 2021, Sanataa Lodge faced a COVID-19 outbreak. WorkSafeBC’s detailed investigation into the outbreak, combined with an inspection report (Inspection Report #202220026001A, dated June 5, 2023), paint a picture of non-compliance and neglect at the industrial camp.
The victim, known as Worker 1, displayed symptoms of COVID-19 shortly after his arrival at the camp on Nov. 30, 2021 — but he was not isolated promptly. On Dec. 7, 2021, he was overheard telling a supervisor he was unwell and was told to lie down. On Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, Worker 1 signed into daily health and safety meetings, suggesting he was present and not isolating in his room.
On Dec. 10, a new supervisor arrived at the camp and said she was not briefed on his illness. Worker 1 did not sign in to the safety meeting that day.
On Dec. 11, Worker 1 was moved into a bedroom with its own washroom in the isolation wing of the main camp. An appointment was made for him to undergo COVID testing at a clinic on Dec. 12 in Fort St. John, B.C. Worker 1 was taken to the appointment by a Horizon North Shuttle and returned back to the camp at 4 p.m. on Dec. 12.
That was the last time he was seen alive.
On Dec. 13, Worker 1 was found lying dead at about 9 a.m. by another worker and his supervisor.
The WorkSafeBC investigation
The investigation by WorkSafeBC, uncovered a number of critical lapses:
Inadequate implementation of COVID-19 protocols: Despite having a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan, Horizon North exhibited significant shortcomings in its execution.
“Living conditions at the camp, including shared washrooms and communal spaces, were a likely factor in the spread of the illness,” the report said. “Additionally, lack of spacing during staff meals was likely a factor.”
Notably, Sanataa Lodge was the only one of five camps operated by the employer to experience an outbreak, a fact attributed to its communal living arrangements.
Failure in compliance with public health orders: The employer did not meet the requirements of the provincial public health order for industrial camps. This included a failure to rapidly detect and isolate infected workers, maintain high standards of camp hygiene, and prevent workers with symptoms from being at the workplace.
“Worker 1 did not have the support and services he needed to isolate. He was four days into a reported illness before he was put into isolation. While he was in isolation, no wellness checks were performed to support him,” it said.
Neglect in worker safety and training: The inspection report highlighted the employer’s failure to ensure worker health and safety, as mandated by the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. This included insufficient information, training, and supervision on COVID-19 safety measures, and a lack of proper health and safety orientation for new workers.
“The firm failed to implement an exposure control plan, based on a risk assessment conducted by a qualified person, that included infection control precautions. The firm also failed to provide its new workers with health and safety training and orientation specific to their workplace,” it said.
Lack of adequate health measures: The camp failed to conduct daily temperature checks, maintain minimum cleaning standards, especially in shared washrooms, and properly document safety meetings and symptom checklists.
No paid sick time
Northern Health noted that Horizon North did not pay workers while they were off sick. The medical officer for Northern Health recommended that the company enact a sick-pay policy to pay ill workers, as the lack of such a policy could affect how willing people were to isolate. The company also enacted a vaccine mandate as of Jan. 1, 2022, and required workers to complete a RAD point-of-care test upon arrival to the camp.
The company also made the position of primary care paramedic a full-time on at the camp.
While the investigation could not precisely determine when or where Worker 1 contracted COVID-19, it is “highly likely” that he caught it at work as “several workers reported COVID-19 symptoms in early December,” the report said.
It also noted that, at the time of the report’s writing, Sanataa Lodge had been closed. The total fine issued was $206,346.90. It was imposed on Sept. 7, 2023, but the details were just recently made available.