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Major B.C. shipbuilding company fined $710K after worker suffers carbon monoxide poisoning

Seaspan employees look towards the HMCS Vancouver before an announcement about investing more than $7.5 billion into the Royal Canadian Navy's 12 Halifax-class frigates to provide ongoing maintenance until they are retired in 2040s as members from government and staff gather during a press conference at Seaspan's Victoria Shipyard in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday July 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito Seaspan employees look towards the HMCS Vancouver before an announcement about investing more than $7.5 billion into the Royal Canadian Navy's 12 Halifax-class frigates to provide ongoing maintenance until they are retired in 2040s as members from government and staff gather during a press conference at Seaspan's Victoria Shipyard in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday July 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
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A major British Columbia shipbuilding company, which builds and services vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy, has been fined more than $700,000 after a worker suffered carbon monoxide poisoning at the company's Victoria shipyard.

WorkSafeBC says the incident occurred on July 12, 2023, when a worker at the Seaspan-operated Victoria Shipyards was arc gouging – cutting metal with electricity – inside a confined space on a ship.

A subsequent inspection found "multiple deficiencies" in the company's confined space work procedures, WorkSafeBC says, noting "these were all high-risk violations."

The extent of the worker's injuries are redacted from the on-site inspection reports provided to CTV News by WorkSafeBC. However, the workplace safety regulator wrote that "two minutes after the worker had entered the confined space, the alarm of the gas monitor started sounding."

"The worker was inside the space for 40 minutes while the alarm from the testing equipment was sounding," one report notes. "There was no action taken to pull the worker out of the space where there was carbon monoxide buildup."

The safety regulator says Seaspan's safety protocols require a "standby person" to check on the wellbeing of a welder in a confined space every 10 minutes.

"The standby person was not located at the entrance of the space for at least 40 minutes" during the incident, WorkSafeBC says. "When the worker exited the space following their injury, the standby person was not there."

Inadequate training, protective gear

The regulator wrote that the company's confined space entry permit also requries the worker and the standby person are to use radios and visual cues to communicate during confined space work.

"However, none of those were actually used while the alarm was going off," WorkSafeBC said.

"The employer stated that the standby person had not received training for the duty he was performing."

The inspection found that the injured worker was wearing an inadequate respirator without a compressed air line while performing the work because "the equipment required as per the hazard assessment was not in working order," according to WorkSafeBC

The regulator's initial post-injury inspection found multiple contraventions of B.C.'s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, prompting WorkSafeBC to issue orders to rectify the failures along with a penalty of $710,488.79.

The maximum penalty the regulator can issue for occupational health and safety contraventions is  $783,068.26.

WorkSafeBC followed up with an inspection in March and closed many of the safety orders it had imposed on the company because the work in the confined space had ended. The regulator ordered Seaspan to ensure atmospheric testing was conducted in future confined space work.

The company said its workers had been re-trained on its protocols, including the use of proper protective equipment.

Seaspan Victoria Shipyards vice-president Tony Winter says the company "remains committed to maintaining a safe workplace for all employees, contractors, and visitors" at its locations.

"Following the incident at Seaspan Victoria Shipyards last July, we have taken a number of actions to evaluate and improve our processes and safety culture," Winter said in an emailed statement.

"We constantly review our safety programs and hold ourselves accountable to achieve a safety culture across our organization."

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