WCB issues orders on faulty Sheriff radios and insufficient training

The Workers’ Compensation Board has found the B.C. Sheriff Services in violation of important health and safety regulations. The violations concern the new radios issued to sheriffs that should enable clear, 2-way communication between sheriffs in the field, their supervisor and central dispatch.

Sheriffs had already reported numerous problems with the new radios, including intermittent and unreliable communications. Sheriffs also believe there was insufficient training on how to use and troubleshoot the new radios. 

After experiencing radio problems while transporting inmates between two RCMP detachments and the Chilliwack courthouse on March 15, a sheriff exercised the right to refuse unsafe work and a WCB officer was assigned to investigate. 

The WCB inspection confirmed the sheriffs’ concerns.

In an inspection carried out on March 18, a WCB officer found the employer had failed to establish policies, procedures or changes in the work environment to minimize the risk to workers arising from ineffective radios. The officer also found the employer had provided only rudimentary, verbal instruction on how to use the new radios. The officer concluded this inadequate training exposes sheriffs to the hazard of violence which could result in serious injury or death. 

“I want to thank our sheriffs who have been raising concerns about these unsafe radios,” says Dean Purdy BCGEU vice president Corrections and Sheriff Services – Component 1. “In particular I want to thank our sheriff who exercised the right to refuse unsafe work. This has forced the employer to address the problem and it will ultimately improve the safety of all sheriffs.” 

There is more information below on your right to refuse unsafe work. Please read it.

The BCGEU is calling on WorkSafeBC to ensure that B.C. Sheriff Services replaces the faulty radios with appropriate and reliable radios as soon as possible. B.C. Sheriff Services must also ensure that a written training system is put in place so sheriffs know how to operate the new radios and stay safe on the job.  
Click here to read the full WCB inspection report.
Click here to read the letter to Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC, VP Prevention Services.

Unsafe work

Sheriffs are routinely given more work to do and are being asked to do more than can reasonably or realistically be accomplished. Your union understands these concerns and reminds you to look after your health and safety and that of your coworkers. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you are unsafe due to short staffing or any other situation, you have the right to refuse unsafe work. This also applies to Correctional Officers. Members are reminded of Section 3.12 ("How to Refuse Unsafe Work") of the Occupation Health and Safety Regulation.

If you have reason to believe that the work is unsafe this is the procedure to follow:

  • Talk to your supervisor or employer;
  • Supervisor must investigate and fix the hazard or let you know that s/he doesn't agree that there is a hazard;
  • If you still believe the work is dangerous then you can continue to refuse and the supervisor must continue the investigation in the presence of the worker and a worker representative from the OH&S committee, a union designate or a co-worker selected by you;
  • If the hazard is still not fixed and you consider the work unsafe, you can continue to refuse and both you and the employer must contact the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). A WCB officer must investigate the matter without delay and issue whatever orders s/he considers necessary;
  • You may be reassigned to alternate work, at no loss in pay, while you wait for the WCB officer's decision;
  • Always let your shop steward know that you are refusing unsafe work.