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Bus company asked to consider seatbelts

“Seriously concerned” about the safety of its workers at Myra Falls, NVI Mining Ltd. is working with Wilson’s Transportation to have seatbelts installed on buses transporting workers to and from the mine site and Campbell River.

But, CAW Local 3019 President Bill Garton is singularly unimpressed.

“Having seatbelts on the bus is stupid. That’s an idea with no thought put into it whatsoever,” he said.

Wearing seat belts on buses will subject passengers to neck injuries from slamming into the top of the seat in front, he predicts. He also believes seatbelts won’t help in a rollover situation.

Myra’s Human Resources Superintendent Dave Keiver tells the Mirror: “We have entered into discussions with our carrier looking into seatbelts on buses.”

In mid-December, a Wilson’s bus rolled over on treacherously icy Highway 28 near Elk River Main Line. Twelve of the 14 riders on the bus were taken to hospital. Two passengers, Pat Jeffery and Dennis Fawcett, had serious rib, lung and back injuries. At the time of the crash Wilson’s Transportation Vice President John Wilson said preliminary investigations by the company and the RCMP placed 100 per cent blame on the icy conditions.

The union president believes the blame for the crash rests with the condition of the roadway. He charges that the public portion of the highway up to the Gold River turnoff had “not been kept up.”

Garton says the mine’s road surface crews do a good job of clearing the road from the Gold River turnoff on to the mine, but the same cannot be said for Department of Highways contractor, Emcom. “I’d say they were slow.”

Emcom Services Inc. Road Superintendent Justin Burgers could not be reached for comment. However, RCMP Constable Mark Blacklock says road conditions were changing rapidly and highways crews were on the scene of the accident soon after it happened. “I don’t see it as an issue because they were already on the road.”

Keiver says the company has conducted its own investigation into the accident. That probe will likely remain an “internal” one, but Keiver said it contains nothing “unusual.”

He did say the effort to get seat belts installed is not the result of the investigation. That initiative “springs from the fact that there were people injured on the bus and our concern that steps be taken to prevent similar injuries in another accident. Very quickly the seat belt question was out there.”

Keiver says part of that process involves a “learning curve” regarding why various industry operators do or do not have seat belts installed.

“Regardless of whether the industry has them, we are seriously looking into what it is going to take to equip our (buses) with seatbelts. Most buses are designed (to withstand) forward impact. In this particular situation the bus kind of slowly slid off the side of the road and lay down on its side.”

Keiver said in discussions with Wilson’s “we are finding that it is not as simple as just deciding we will install seatbelts on the current seats. There are a lot of technical issues that we are trying to get a handle on about the design of the seats, how we can attach (seatbelts) to them and how they are anchored to the structure of the bus.”

Wilson’s General Manager Joe Jansen says: “We are reviewing the costs associated with that. It’s going to be up to the mine if they want that they can certainly specify that. There is a cost of some nature associated with that.

“There are currently no laws in the country requiring that. Buses have been designed over the years...to contain the passenger in the seat.

Jansen added that because seatbelts are not legislated in Canada, industry “has not embraced it.”

The provincial government does not even want seatbelts to be added to existing buses.

A recent Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement bulletin was issued to all vehicle inspectors and school bus operators to clarify Transport Canada, Motor Vehicle Safety Act and BC Motor Vehicle Act regulations pertaining to the use of seatbelts on school bus seats that were not manufactured to be equipped with seatbelts.

Division manager Brian Kangas stated in the bulletin: “Modification to the seat or any addition of a seatbelt or restraint device where one was not provided by the manufacturer could possibly diminish the existing passenger protection by being a potential cause of injury in a severe impact.”

Keiver responded: “No good deed goes unpunished, eh?”

Further complicating the process is the fact that effective January 2009, the Occupational Health and Safety regulations of WorkSafeBC exempted worker transportation vehicles on and off a highway from a seatbelt requirement.

Nevertheless Keiver says: “We’re taking steps to do what we can to increase the protection of our workforce.”

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