B.C. shipbuilder fined $710K for worker's CO poisoning

A government funding announcement at Seaspan's Victoria Shipyard in 2019. Seaspan has been hit with a penalty worth over $700,000 for a carbon monoxide poisoning incident at its Victoria yard in 2023. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A major B.C. maritime employer has been assessed a $710,488.79 penalty by WorkSafeBC for an incident in which a worker in Victoria suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.

The incident occurred in July 2023 at the Seaspan-operated Victoria Shipyards on Admirals Road, according to the workplace safety regulator.

An online summary posted by WorkSafe notes the worker had been conducting arc gouging — described online as a welding technique where intense electricity melts and cuts metal — in a confined space on a ship.

An inspection found "multiple deficiencies" with Seaspan's confined space entry program related to hazard assessment, atmospheric testing, worker well-being monitoring and protective gear.

"These were all high-risk violations," WorkSafe concluded in the summary.

The summary and partially redacted inspection reports provided to CBC News do not make clear the severity of the worker's injuries.

B.C. Emergency Health Services said paramedics responded to a carbon monoxide incident on the same day and location, provided emergency care and took one patient to the hospital.

The penalty was assessed in February and posted online in late March.

WorkSafe's statutory maximum penalty for 2024 is $783,068.26. It explains penalties are usually based on the size of an employer's payroll and the nature of the violation

Alarm sounded for 40 minutes: report

According to a WorkSafe report from an Aug. 2023 follow-up inspection, the employer said that two minutes after the worker went inside the ship's confined space on July 12, 2023, a gas monitor alarm sounded.

The worker continued working for 40 minutes before they "exited" the space. The report states any alarm should have led to a workspace evacuation.

It says Seaspan assessed the workspace's atmospheric hazard to be a "moderate" risk when it should have been assessed as "high."

"A high-hazard atmosphere would have required, amongst other things, a standby person to have been assigned for continuous monitoring of the space," the report states.

The assigned standby person was to monitor pre-entry testing and monitor the space. No records of the testing were found, according to the report.

The standby person was also expected to check the worker's well-being every 10 minutes. They weren't present at the workspace entry for at least 40 minutes.

The worker and the standby person were to communicate with radios and verbal and visual communication, but these weren't used.

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

The report also noted the employer did not "get hold" of the carbon monoxide monitor from a previous month's incident and could not retrieve a log of its data.

"Therefore, there is no indication of what the CO levels were during the 40 minutes while the worker was working inside the space and the alarm was sounding," the report states.

During the work, the report found the worker should have been wearing a respirator with a compressed air line and filtration box, but the equipment wasn't working.

Instead, the worker was wearing a respirator with a filter "ineffective in filtering carbon monoxide."

Seaspan says safety improvements implemented

The inspector issued a number of orders related to occupational health and safety provisions of the Workers Compensation Act.

Several orders were closed because the work had stopped, but further action was ordered regarding atmospheric testing and risk assessment. It said protective equipment retraining had taken place.

A follow-up report from March 2024 noted all the inspector's orders and items had been compiled with or closed.

Seaspan's Victoria Shipyards vice president, Tony Winter, said in an emailed statement that the company is committed to the safety of employees, contractors, and visitors across all its facilities.

"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," Winters said.

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

The union listed on WorkSafe's August report, Boilermakers 191, declined to comment Monday when reached by CBC.