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Horizon faces 4 asbestos-related charges at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital

The offences are alleged to have occurred at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton between Nov. 7, 2017, and Oct. 6, 2022. (Pat Richard/CBC - image credit)
The offences are alleged to have occurred at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton between Nov. 7, 2017, and Oct. 6, 2022. (Pat Richard/CBC - image credit)

Horizon Health Network is facing four workplace safety charges related to the alleged potential exposure of some Fredericton hospital employees to asbestos over a nearly five-year period.

WorkSafeNB has accused Regional Health Authority B, doing business as Horizon and the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, of failing to take "every reasonable precaution" to ensure the health and safety of any person having access to or using that place of employment by failing to identify the presence of asbestos.

In addition, it accuses Horizon of failing to inform employees of the presence of asbestos, failing to acquaint employees with any hazard connected to the handling of asbestos, and failing to adopt the code of practice for working with materials containing asbestos.

The offences are alleged to have occurred between Nov. 7, 2017, and Oct. 6, 2022.

Charges stem from investigation

"Asbestos was contained in an area inaccessible to the public, patients, and most employees," according to Laragh Dooley, executive director of corporate communications for WorkSafeNB.

"Our investigation found that potential exposure to asbestos occurred with employees working in the interstitial space (area between floors)."

She did not say how many employees were potentially exposed.

The lead investigator with WorkSafeNB told a coroner's jury on Thursday that no charges were laid following their investigation into the death of Donald Hawkes.
The lead investigator with WorkSafeNB told a coroner's jury on Thursday that no charges were laid following their investigation into the death of Donald Hawkes.

The maximum penalty a company can face under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is $250,000, said WorkSafeNB. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Asked what prompted the investigation and whether any employees have suffered any health impacts, Dooley did not respond directly.

"WorkSafeNB takes every complaint about workplace health and safety seriously. Unless an issue is discovered during a planned or random inspection, the majority of our investigations are prompted by an employee complaint or workplace accident," she said.

"As the case is before the courts, we cannot share any more details at this time," she added.

No risk to patients or staff, says Horizon

Horizon made its first appearance on the Occupational Health and Safety Act charges in Fredericton provincial court Monday, but the defence requested more time to review the file.

Judge Cameron Gunn adjourned the matter until Oct. 16 for pleas.

Horizon is "aware of the charges and takes this matter very seriously," Jeff Carter, vice-president of capital assets, operations and infrastructure, said in an emailed statement.

"We would stress that there is absolutely no risk to patients or staff," he said, declining further comments because the case is before the courts.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the maximum a company can be fined is $250,000.

The highest penalty to date in New Brunswick for a violation of the act is $200,000, according to WorkSafeNB.

WorkSafeNB originally laid the charges last month, but alleged a shorter time period — between Nov. 7, 2017, and June 30, 2022.

On Monday, the Crown withdrew that information and replaced it with the revised time frame.