By Sophie Gray, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter (Osoyoos Times)

Minister of Labour Harry Bains and WorkSafeBC’s Al Johnson hosted a town hall on Thursday evening to answer questions about returning to work during B.C.’s restart plan.

Earlier in the day, the minister addressed working conditions and regulations after the first few days of phase two of the reopening program.

Bains covered similar topics in both presentations, addressing how the province will ensure that businesses are following the guidelines laid out by WorkSafeBC. He noted that inspections are already underway and that there will be financial consequences if businesses are not complying.

“This is to make sure businesses have the best safety measures in place and consumers can place their trust by stepping inside of them,” said Bains.

He noted that inspections have increased dramatically this year over last, with more than 15,000 completed inspections in 2020, compared to approximately 10,000 in 2019.

Bains also said that WorkSafeBC has increased their staff in anticipation of increased call volumes. The line, said Bains, is how the government and WorkSafeBC hope to get the public involved in policing the businesses they have yet to get to.

“If you feel that someone isn’t following the guidelines, you can phone the provincial line at WorkSafeBC,” said Bains. “You will have a live person speak to you, guide you with whatever particular needs you have in that call.”

Bains and Johnson both assured that these calls will be followed up on if major concerns are raised.

One of the major areas of concern exposed during the town hall was around children returning to school on June 1. Bains and Johnson fielded multiple questions about safety in the education sector, including use and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning standards and safely returning work.

When it comes to PPE for any industry, Johnson said it’s about figuring out what your sector actually needs.

“I would go back to the basic principles and really look at what PPE do you really need or what is your employer saying you need in your workplace and really look at that through a critical lens,” said Johnson. “I think you’ll find the availability of this equipment and sanitizers are more so today than in the weeks gone by and you should be able to find those things you actually need.”

Other questions raised were about specific industry requirements and the safety of workers in high-risk categories while on the job.

Both Johnson and Bains referred back to the WorkSafeBC website and the instructions of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for most questions.