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B.C. government handed $710K penalty for 'unsafe' wildfire workers

The B.C. Ministry of Forests said it is appealing what it described as an "arbitrary and disproportionately high" penalty.
A firefighter from the BC Wildfire Service’s Rhino Unit Crew prepares to cut down trees to reduce potential fuel on the south edge of the Stoddard Creek wildfire. The 2023 wildfire season was B.C.’s most destructive ever.

The B.C. government has been fined more than $710,000 by its own health and safety agency after wildfire mitigation workers were found cutting down trees in an “unsafe” manner about 80 kilometres northwest of Fort St. John. 

The administrative penalty, imposed Oct. 26, 2023, but released last week, applied to a worksite in Wonowon, B.C., and was among the largest handed down in the province over the past six months.

In one case, WorkSafeBC found evidence workers made unsafe falling cuts, where stumps were left with “insufficient holding wood.” 

“WorkSafeBC also determined that the employer did not verify faller certification and did not actively monitor work, as required by its falling safety program,” noted WorkSafeBC in a summary of the infractions. 

“As owner of a forestry operation, the employer failed to ensure all activities were both planned and conducted in a manner consistent with regulatory requirements and with safe work practices acceptable to WorkSafeBC.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests said it is “dedicated to ensuring the safety of all staff and contractors.” 

“We are disappointed by what happened. Everyone should be able to perform their work safely,” said the statement.

“We are taking action, working with all contractors and subcontractors to ensure we meet the high standards we always strive to achieve.”

The ministry said the province “agrees that process improvements are warranted” and will review safety and contracting processes and procedures.

The ministry's statement added, however, that the penalty is “arbitrary and disproportionately high” and that it would be appealing the amount.