PRH gets $75,000 wake-up call
Pembroke Regional Hospital
Two incidents during routine maintenance work, in October, 2011 and the spring of 2012, have ended up costing the Pembroke Regional Hospital a total of $75,000 in fines after it entered a guilty plea on Ontario Ministry of Labour charges of failing to protect its workers against exposure to asbestos.
Four $15,000 fines, plus a 25 per cent victim surchage, were assessed to the hospital by a justice of the peace on Monday, Feb. 25.
The hospital was charged with failing to ensure the following: that workers were provided with information about the presence of asbestos; that workers were properly trained to work in an area containing asbestos material; that a competent supervisor was appointed, with respect to the workplace; and that appropriate measures and procedures were used to protect workers from possible contact with asbestos-containing materials.
A hospital media release states, "the hospital takes the matter which was before the court very seriously and has co-operated fully with the Ministry of Labour in order to resolve this matter and ensure full compliance of all regulations going forward."
It also states that the hospital has had a comprehensive plan in place for years, last updated in 2008, which "identifies areas where asbestos is present so that workers are aware of the need to use precautions", "is continually updated" and "is available to employees and contractors who perform work on the physical plant."
This is in spite of the ministry's claim that "the workers were not told they would be working in an area containing asbestos and they were not trained on the hazards of asbestos, the personal hygiene to be observed around the substance, or the care and disposal of protective equipment to be worn when doing the work."
According to John Wren, vice president of corporate and support services, and PRH CEO Pierre Noel, the real takeaway from the whole affair is the importance of proper and thorough documentation when it comes to workplace safety training.
Without that documentation, says Wren, there was very little the hospital could do to defend itself against the charges laid by the ministry, though he does concede that the training and safety preparation could probably also be looked at as needing attention.
"It's our belief that people were aware of [the hospital's asbestos plan]. Now, was it followed and supervised well? Probably not in every situation, and that's part of what the issue's about."
For Noel, the court's decision is no longer the focus, but instead it will be a catalyst for action in the future, and that's where the hospital's attention will be.
"We take this very seriously. What we're concerned about going forward [is] we don't want any issues with asbestos. We want to keep our staff safe, and anything we're obliged to do we will be doing. The matters that were addressed in court are what they are, but we're really focused on the future.
"We've got plans in place to make sure that training is provided and well documented. That's been part of our issue in the past: while the training was done, there was no documentation around that, so we're going to make sure we do a very good job of that."
Wren and Noel report that at least two thirds of the hospital complex can be said to be completely asbestos-free, and it's the remainder, made up of older buildings constructed in the 1950s, when asbestos use was common, that will be the target of assessment and asbestos removal, funded by $350,000 received from the Champlain LHIN's Hospital Infrastructure Renewal Fund, a process set to begin in a matter of weeks.
Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist.
Follow him on Twitter @PRyanPaulsen.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour's press release regarding the charges and fines:
The Pembroke Regional Hospital press release in response to the court's decision: