Public school administration ordered to pay $ 50,000 for asbestos-related offenses

The Public Schools Branch was ordered to pay $ 50,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety offenses involving an asbestos incident at Mount Stewart Consolidated School.

Details of the incident were first made public at a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Charlottetown Provincial Court.

“There have been missteps and the Public Schools Directorate recognizes the missteps,” said PSB director Norbert Carpenter after the sentence was handed down.

“This is a major event in the sense that we have to do a better job of educating our employees and having an asbestos management plan. “

A leaking boiler

In July 2020, a guard discovered a leaking boiler in the Mount Stewart Consolidated boiler room, according to facts read in court. The boiler was drained and repaired, but two PSB maintenance staff suspected that the pipes around the boiler might be covered with asbestos.

They sent a sample for analysis, and a private lab confirmed that the sample contained 60% chrysolite asbestos.

But those lab results did not go any further than the office of the head of PSB’s real estate services, according to court documents, as the official mistakenly believed the lab report referred to a previous test.

“Maintenance personnel left insulation, pipes and debris on the floor of the boiler room,” the court documents read.

“Guards and other staff would frequently enter the boiler room to access a washing machine and dryer located at the back of the room. “

“There have been some missteps… we have to do a better job,” PSB manager Norbert Carpenter said after Tuesday’s conviction in Charlottetown. (Brian Higgins / CBC)

Mishandled materials

In September 2020, the Office of the Fire Marshal conducted an inspection of the school and recommended that the debris be cleaned up as a fire hazard.

According to the facts read in court, “a guard cleaned up the mess and eliminated it through the outside doors of the boiler room.”

In October, one of the two maintenance staff who first suspected the presence of asbestos returned to the school and realized that the hazardous materials had been mishandled.

This led to an investigation, charges and guilty pleas to two charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“The charges stemmed from this incident of individuals not following proper protocol when it came to this job,” Carpenter said. “We have taken many steps since this happened.”

PSB takes action

The Public Schools Branch has been fined $ 5,000 and an additional fine of $ 45,000 which will go to the Workers Compensation Board for Asbestos Workplace Safety Education.

PSB officials told the court they are currently carrying out assessments for the presence of hazardous materials, including asbestos, in 47 of the province’s 56 schools.

“We will be rolling out an individual plan for each public school branch site,” Carpenter said.

“So schools know, vendors know, and staff know where there are hazards in the building and what to do when working at those sites.”

The PSB also said it hired a school safety consultant and updated training for key staff, including principals and maintenance workers.

Subsequent testing showed that the asbestos levels in the air in the boiler room were within safe limits and that no asbestos was detected in the air in any other part of the school. The asbestos clean-up in the school boiler room is now complete.

This was the first court case in PEI. involving handling asbestos, according to the provincial crown attorney.