BCGEU welcomes full review of dam safety regulations

July 15, 2010

Report cites staff cuts, workload and ‘inappropriate’ regulation in dam failure

Deputy solicitor general David Morhart’s report on the Testalinden Dam failure supports the union’s view that a full review of dam safety regulation and staffing levels is needed to ensure public safety, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union said today.

“We welcome the call for a full review of dam safety regulations, including the need for improved oversight and resources, and hope that the government acts quickly to implement his recommendations” said BCGEU president Darryl Walker. “The report makes it clear that ongoing staff cuts and gaps in regulation helped create the circumstances that led to the failure of the dam near Oliver.”

Two key findings raise questions about the impact of budget cuts and self-regulation on public safety. The report notes that the number of staff dedicated to dam safety has been cut by 35 percent since 1996. Only 5.5 officers now serve the entire province. Dam safety officers also have “many competing responsibilities, in addition to licensing and review functions” which limit their ability to provide effective oversight, according to the report.

“The deputy minister clearly identifies the lack of appropriate staffing levels and workload pressures as factors in compromising dam safety,” said BCGEU president Darryl Walker. “You can’t continue to cut regulatory staff year after year without compromising public safety and service.”

Morhart’s report highlights significant gaps in B.C.’s dam safety regulations, noting that the Testalinden Dam’s low risk assessment rating is “likely inappropriate.” The report also points to deficiencies in enforcement, noting “it is not clear what powers the dam safety officers have” after self-inspection reports have been submitted by dam operators.

“The current self-regulation model assumes that operators will act in good faith,” said Walker. “But without proper monitoring and enforcement, there’s no way of knowing if they’re following the rules until it’s too late.”

Read Darryl Walker's June 29, 2010 blog on this issue.