Workers were attempting to replace two chlorine tanks in the city’s Norrish Creek Water Treatment Plant when some gas escaped. The city was fined more than $300,000 for the incident.

Huge WorkSafeBC fine came after Abbotsford ignored orders for chlorine safety plan

Mayor says Abbotsford has improved safety record since 2017 incident that prompted $300k fine

Years before two workers were exposed to chlorine and hospitalized, the City of Abbotsford was repeatedly told it needed to improve the safety of its employees who handled the potentially deadly gas at its water plants.

In January, WorkSafeBC revealed that it had hit the city with a fine of more than $300,000 after an incident at its Norrish Creek water plant. But documents obtained by The News show that fine came because the city failed to “exercise due diligence” by not acting properly after several previous chlorine exposure events. (Go to the end of this story to read the documents.)

On July 6, 2017, two workers were exposed to chlorine at the city’s Norrish Creek water plant. (Although the initial report suggested the incident took place last year, it in fact occurred in 2017, while the fine was levied in 2019.)

The workers had their breathing masks on, but hadn’t connected their regulators as they discussed how to replace two large chlorine tanks.

When one of the employees went to bleed the chlorine gas from a line, “he heard a louder than normal sound, then tasted the chlorine,” according to a WorkSafeBC document obtained by The News. Both workers were able to leave the building. They assessed themselves, then re-entered the building and finished their task. Once the job was done, they called an ambulance, which took them to hospital, where they were treated and released.

WorkSafeBC investigators found a range of safety issues. Some, the investigators learned, were repeats of problems previously identified in a series of chlorine events between 2011 and 2013.

In 2011, an electrician at the city’s Cannel Lake water treatment plant smelled chlorine and left the building. But he then re-entered while “holding his breath to shut off the pumps.” A year later, the city had not yet complied with recommendations meant to prevent another issue.

RELATED: Attack on nurse at Abbotsford hospital was one of several violent incidents this year, report says

In 2013, two more chlorine releases took place at the same treatment plant. Those incidents prompted WorkSafeBC to demand a meeting with Abbotsford’s city manager and director of human resources. In 2013, the city told WorkSafeBC investigators that it was working on an Exposure Control Plan that it hoped to complete that October. But when investigators arrived to look into the 2017 Norrish Creek exposure event more than three years later, they found the plans had still not been completed.

That 2017 incident prompted WorkSafeBC to issue the city 12 different orders regarding a range of issues. The city was cited for having not completed a required risk assessment, a lack of safe work procedures for the job, and for deficiencies or absences of other safeguards regarding breathing equipment and chlorine monitors and on-site machinery. Sufficient training also hadn’t been provided to all city workers required to wear breathing equipment.

WorkSafeBC felt a large fine was necessary in order “to motivate the employer to comply.”

Penalties are based on the payroll of the offender. The City of Abbotsford’s large payroll leaves it facing a commensurately large fines to motivate compliance. If the city re-offends in a similar way, the penalty will double.

A chlorine exposure control plan is now in place at Norrish Creek, while the Cannel Lake plant now uses a different method to treat the water, a city spokesperson said.

Mayor Henry Braun said the city has made strides on increasing worker safety in recent years.

The city had such high WorkSafeBC claim rates in 2014 that it ended up paying WorkSafeBC premiums 60 per cent higher than the base rate. In 2016, as the city looked to hire a health and safety co-ordinator, Braun declared the city’s safety record to be “less than stellar.”

Braun says things have improved considerably since then.

“We’re serious about this. We have a much better safety record today than when I came here as the mayor in 2015,” he said. “Since the incident, the city has maintained an excellent record. We received the WorkSafe certificate of recognition … We never get to perfection on this, there’s always things to do when it comes to improving safety for our employees and we’ll continue to do that.”

City of Abbotsford WorkSafe… by Tyler Olsen on Scribd

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford parents upset as district gets cohort exemption to maximize class sizes at elementary school

Classes and cohorts shuffled after division eliminated at King Traditional elementary school

Young Abbotsford cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abby Senior grad established new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

Craft brewery near Abbotsford Centre gets OK from council

No objections to Canuck Empire Brewery’s plans for site near University of the Fraser Valley

B.C. families financially affected by pandemic eligible for grocery gift cards

Program open to struggling families in Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley communities

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

VIDEO: Shots fired outside Langley gas station that was scene of 2018 homicide

No reports of injuries in Saturday evening incident

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Air quality advisory ends for the Lower Mainland

It had been in effect since Sept. 8

Most Read