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Camp operator penalized $206,000 after B.C. worker found dead of COVID-19

WorkSafeBC found the company "failed to implement an exposure control plan."
A worker died of COVID-19 while on the job, says WorkSafeBC.

An industrial camp operator has been fined over $200,000 for failing to implement COVID-19 safety measures after a worker died of the virus in his room about 65 kilometres outside Dawson Creek, B.C.

The WorkSafeBC fine, handed down in September 2023 but released to the public last week, penalizes Horizon North Camp & Catering & Dexterra Group Inc. $206,346.90 for failing to implement a number of procedures at its Sanataa Lodge facility — advertised to workers in the oil and gas industry. 

Industrial work camps, such as those occupied by workers building BC Hydro's Site C dam and Coastal GasLink's pipeline project, have been the site of a number of COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

A redacted WorkSafeBC inspection report, dated May 24, 2023, and seen by Glacier Media, provides a near blow-by-blow timeline of how one of those clusters played out. 

Deceased man worked after reporting symptoms, documents show

The narrative starts on Nov. 30, 2021, when a worker boarded a bus in Edmonton, Alta. The report says the worker had his temperature checked and did a COVID-19 screening questionnaire, unlike other employees arriving to the camp by car.

A week later, another worker at the B.C. camp overheard the man report to a supervisor that he was ill. But inspectors later determined the man from Alberta continued to work for two more days, and supervisors did not isolate him for another two days after that. 

On Dec. 12, the sick worker was finally taken to a Fort St. John clinic for COVID-19 testing — five days after he first reported symptoms.

“He arrived back at the camp at approximately 16:00, which is when he was last seen alive,” notes the report.

The next morning a supervisor and another worker found him lying dead in his room. The BC Coroners Service later determined the man died of COVID-19.

B.C.’s Northern Health Authority began contact tracing, and after a number of rapid antigen tests, discovered COVID-19 throughout the camp. 

The cluster was “deemed stable” by Dec. 18. The transmission source was eventually tracked to staff accommodations, and it was later thought to be “highly likely” the deceased worker caught the virus at work, according to the report led by WorkSafeBC investigator Michelle Welsh.

Camp operator failed to enforce COVID-19 measures

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued orders meant to stem the spread of the virus in industrial camps on July 7, 2021, months before the cluster at Sanataa Lodge.

But WorkSafeBC inspectors found the company failed to enforce physical distancing, temperature checks, and the reporting of symptoms.

The company’s timeline of the incident stated the deceased worker was in isolation in the days after he reported feeling sick. But documents show he signed in at morning safety meetings those same days, evidence he was working while sick.

The deceased man “did not have the support and services he needed to isolate” and “while he was in isolation, no wellness checks were performed to support him,” the inspection report reads. 

As a result, inspectors determined workers sick with COVID-19 were not properly quarantined. 

The cluster was likely made worse by the camp’s communal living spaces, shared washrooms, and a lack of spacing during meals, according to their inspection report.

High-risk violations also included a lack of health and safety training for new workers and a failure to maintain minimum cleaning standards to the point where common areas were “visibly dirty.”

Camp operator appealing decision

In an unattributed statement to Glacier Media, Dexterra Group said it is “actively appealing the decision.”

“Throughout the pandemic we safely operated at hundreds of sites across Canada. We have an ongoing commitment to the health and safety of our people, the clients we work for and the customers we serve,” the company said.

“Given that this matter is before the appeals tribunal we will have no further comment at this time.”

It’s not clear how many workers ultimately fell ill at the Sanataa Lodge cluster, as those numbers were redacted in the investigation report. 

“As of writing this, Sanataa Lodge is closed,” concluded Welsh. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with more detailed information after Glacier Media obtained a WorkSafeBC Incident Investigation Report.