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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    Risking Public Safety for the Sake of Ideology

    The spring sitting of the provincial legislature saw the passage of new laws to enable the deregulation of quality standards for the construction of critical safety systems for new infrastructure including: schools, hospitals, industrial complexes and residences. The legislation, The BC Safety Standards Act and The BC Safety Authority Act, Bills 19 and 20, passed 3rd reading on May 8, 2003.


    These Acts empower local governments and a new provincial authority to enter into accords that override existing legislation including: The Electrical Safety Act, Power Engineers and Boiler and Pressure Vessel Act, Elevator Devices Act and Gas Safety Act. These accords come under an innocuous sounding section in the Safety Systems Act titled, Equivalency Standards Agreements. The ESA’s are variances (or exceptions) to the legislation cited above that will enable semi-skilled workers and helpers to fabricate, assemble and install critical safety devices under the supervision of a single journey-level worker.


    What does all this mean for the average citizen? It means that unqualified workers will be able to fabricate a boiler at a pulp mill, build a power plant at a downtown office tower or residential block, fabricate and install sprinkler and fire protection systems, install and repair elevators and set up and maintain gas lines in commercial, institutional, industrial and residential complexes.


    As if easing safety system regulations wasn’t bad enough, the provincial government has also “dumbed down” apprenticeship training. A new Industry Training Authority Act, to replace the repealed Industry Training and Apprenticeship Act, was also rammed through the legislature in May. The new ITAA is designed to facilitate “task training” over the traditional “full scope of trade” training. These made in BC certificates will not be recognized outside of the province and fall far short of Red Seal standards. The Canadian Red Seal certification is the recognized standard across North America. Red Seal is a prerequisite that ensures a mobile inter-provincial workforce. The construction industry depends on it. Guest Editorial Page 2 July 7, 2003


    Another quirk of the new Safety Systems Act will be the devolution of inspection services to so-called Field Safety Representatives and a contractor’s self declaration of conformity to codes and standards. According to the government “this strategy reduces red tape and regulation by allowing contractors and operators to declare that work has been done to identified codes and standards”. In construction, allowing contractors to police themselves is akin to putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. The ruthless nature of the construction industry forces contractors to find savings where they can in order to win tender bids. Cutting corners on critical path safety systems is an unacceptable risk to the general public.


    The government proposes to monitor this “self policing” through the pleasant sounding process called “results based risk assessment.” Unfortunately, “results based” means wait until an accident happens before inspecting the quality of work and compliance to safety codes. An exploding boiler is similar to a bomb. It can wipe out a school, hospital or industrial complex. Faulty electrical systems are already the number one cause of fires. The disastrous and tragic consequences of building shoddy gas, sprinkler and elevator systems are beyond imagination.


    So why is the government so intent on pursuing this reckless and unprecedented deregulation? Is it “pay back” for campaign donations from some non-union construction contractors or is it just that this government is weaving across the line on its ideological drive to privatize and deregulate as many functions of government as it can get away with? The general public is unaware of the implications of wanton privatization. There has been little if any reporting of the Safety Systems changes, the Apprenticeship changes and further deregulation at the Workers’ Compensation Board in any of our mass media outlets, whether it be television, radio or newspapers.


    Uninformed citizens are unable to question their elected representatives. MLA’s in Victoria are loath to defy the Premier and his coterie of deregulation ideologues. As a society we are entering into a new era of the timid leading the blind. It bodes ill when electors are ignorant of critical changes and local politicians freeze themselves out of making decisions. Tragically, looking to the marketplace to provide quality, safe construction is an ill found faith with a sorry history. ‘Leaky condos’ should be a seen as the canary in the mineshaft for coming disasters.


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