Documents show highways contractors operating unsafe trucks, ignoring maintenance

April 9, 2009

An investigation into mechanical safety standards of vehicles operated by private highways maintenance contractors shows three contractors racked up hundreds of safety infractions for operating unsafe trucks and equipment in 2007 and 2008. And those same companies came under fire for severe safety violations in their self-regulating vehicle maintenance programs.

Documents obtained by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union under the Freedom of Information Act show that one of those contractors, HMC Services operating in the Golden-Revelstoke area, was put on probation in 2007 for failing to properly maintain its vehicles.

Despite the warning, follow up investigations by B.C.'s commercial vehicle (CVSE) inspectors found deteriorating compliance with maintenance and mechanical safety standards. The company had a 100 per cent failure rate on safety inspections.

Under threat of having its maintenance certification hoisted, HMC Services voluntarily surrendered it. It is now forced to have all vehicle maintenance reviewed at independent inspection stations. It also faces charges for violating the Motor Vehicle Act.

"What we found through the FOI is deeply disturbing," says BCGEU president Darryl Walker, whose union represents highways maintenance workers. "When companies don't maintain trucks and heavy equipment, it puts the well being of the drivers and the travelling public at risk.

"The Campbell government is to blame for this troubling situation because it's failed to properly enforce standards and more closely monitor the activities of these companies," Walker says.

"Despite transportation minister Kevin Falcon's recent claims that the Liberals are getting tough with safety violators, they are actually cutting funding for the CVSE program," he charges.

CVSE inspectors also found widespread violations at the Trail maintenance shop of Emcon Services. A year ago, inspectors recommended the company's maintenance certification be pulled. Similar troubles were also uncovered at Emcon's operation in Grand Forks last October. The CVSE report noted "this [vehicle maintenance program] is not working and has not worked for quite some time. I recommend we not renew or cancel."

But so far, senior transportation ministry staff have failed to act on the recommendations.

Copies of CVSE inspection reports from April 2007 to the end of November last year show that Emcon, HMC and the third company under scrutiny, Yellowhead Road and Bridge, have the worst safety record of any private contractors. Vehicles operated by Emcon racked up 129 separate safety violations, Yellowhead 89 infractions, and HMC 81.