B.C. workplace safety watchdog raises concerns about contaminants from flooding

An independent British Columbia workplace safety agency is raising concerns about hazards to workers cleaning up after flooding that affected areas in the province.

The B.C. Industrial Relations Commission, or BIRC, issued a warning on Tuesday about potential hazards in areas affected by flooding over the weekend, calling them “notoriously hazardous”.

“In the worst-case scenarios, workers may be exposed to possible forms of occupational stress and injury, which may have been compounded by exposure to a life-threatening chemical agent, such as hydrogen sulphide, or chlorine gas,” the commission wrote in its statement.

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In B.C., inspections of the workplace in areas affected by flooding are a requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Terri Hounsell, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said she’s hoping the warning and orders issued by the commission prompt companies to ensure their staff are safe.

“All I can say is it’s very difficult and stressful to do any cleanup job in floodwater. I’ve seen it in a number of situations, when workers are removing buildings that have water damage,” she said.

“So I’m hoping the warning also has an impact in the sense that employers step up, people are doing work that needs to be done properly.”

There have been dozens of evacuations and hundreds of people have been displaced by flooding in communities across the province, including Bella Coola, Merritt, and Fort St. John.

Environment Canada said after a second night of rain, the precipitation in the province was expected to taper off on Wednesday, giving way to melting snow.

It is likely “a relatively dry and windy afternoon or two” will follow on Thursday, but the weather agency warned that could bring “other hazards that haven’t yet been triggered.”

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B.C. Emergency Management B.C. said on Tuesday that a quick disaster recovery assessment team has completed a preliminary assessment of areas affected by flooding.

The assessment found that the vast majority of the damage was minor and covered primarily a few hundred homes and a little bit of infrastructure.

Officials say many roads have re-opened and many people have returned to their properties after evacuation orders were lifted or pushed back by the province.

The BIRC issued a warning about the risk of a chemical release after a fire broke out at a closed fertilizer company near Prince George.

The chemical mixture contained chlorine, which can lead to eye, skin and breathing irritations. There was no connection between the fire and the flooding, officials said.

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