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January 20, 2005, Richmond, B.C. The Workers' Compensation Board of B.C. has issued orders and a penalty recommendation against Westminster Marine Services Ltd., the employer involved in the barge incident that took place on January 10, 2003 in New Westminster.
On this date, the 342-foot barge the Sea Link Rigger was undergoing maintenance at the Westminster Marine Services Ltd. (WMS) facility on Front Street in New Westminster. Workers were carrying out a variety of repairs on the barge, including repairs to manhole covers that access void spaces in the hull. A supervisor went missing and another worker located him in the bottom of the void space within the hull. The other workers, one by one, entered the compartment to rescue their colleagues, lost consciousness and ultimately four workers died from oxygen deprivation. One WMS employee survived, as did a New Westminster firefighter who was injured in a rescue attempt.
There were fourteen compartments or void spaces on the Sea Link Rigger; all are considered confined spaces as defined in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation. A confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed area that is big enough for a worker to enter, but is not designed or intended for continuous human occupancy. Confined spaces are extremely dangerous due to poor ventilation resulting in low levels of oxygen, or hazardous atmospheres that include poisonous substances or vapours. Workers entering confined spaces can lose consciousness in minutes.
The WCB investigation found that:
The WCB investigation was referred to provincial Crown Counsel in December 2003. The Crown has now advised it is not in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution. However, under the authority of the Workers Compensation Act, the WCB has issued orders to WMS to do the following:
In addition, under the authority of the Workers Compensation Act the investigating officer has recommended an administrative penalty against WMS of approximately $130,000. When considering an administrative penalty, the WCB considers the seriousness of the event - whether there were fatalities, serious injuries or a near miss and whether or not this was a repeated or knowing violation of the OHS Regulation. The dollar value of a penalty does not reflect the loss of lives and the pain suffered by the families. It is determined through policy, and is based on the size of the employer's assessable payroll and additional claims costs that may be charged to the employer.
An employer has the right to request a review and appeal of any penalty. In order to protect the integrity of this process, the WCB will not make further comment on this matter until the process is concluded.
The WCB investigation is available online (PDF 8mb) at www.worksafebc.com or by request through the media relations contact listed below.
Serving nearly two million workers and more than 175,000 employers, the
Workers' Compensation Board of BC is a provincial statutory agency governed
by a Board of Directors and funded by employers. The WCB is committed
to a safe and healthy workplace, to providing return-to-work rehabilitation
and legislated compensation benefits to workers injured as a result of
their employment, and to being responsible, accountable and financially
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