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Helmet policy riles workers

Change follows worksafeBC visit to Whistler Blackcomb in April and mixed messages on requirements



Not all Whistler Blackcomb employees are pleased with the company's new ruling requiring all staff to wear helmets while on their skis and boards.

"I would prefer to have the choice," said pro patroller Adam Giammarco, who, until now, has not worn a helmet on the job.

The new mandate, which caught most off-guard, was handed down on Friday, April 26 after WorkSafeBC visited Whistler Blackcomb on two occasions. The first spot-check visit on April 12 was to follow up on questions around a small inbounds avalanche in which two employees were caught on March 17. One worker, who was wearing a helmet, was injured.

At that meeting the WorkSafe officers asked to see Whistler Blackcomb's policy around helmet use — a policy that has been under discussion for some time.

That request snowballed as it became clear that the policy was still in development, leaving senior management scrambling to implement new helmet rules at the end of the ski season.

A second meeting was set up with senior management for April 19 to again deal with the issue.

Whistler Blackcomb officials said it was clear to them that they would be held accountable if a helmet policy was not put in place.

"We don't know what sparked this sudden change of opinion from them," said Joel Chevalier, director of employee experience.

"We're definitely keen to find out."

WorkSafeBC has a different take on the April meetings.

Al Johnson, vice president of prevention services, was not at the meetings, but said Whistler Blackcomb was never given any directive from WorkSafeBC.

"I don't know what the decision was from Whistler Blackcomb's perspective to put out their policies on Friday (April 26)," he said.

"We did not write any orders or directives for Whistler Blackcomb to immediately implement a program or a policy. In fact, we were still waiting to meet with the industry on May 30... They are under no orders by us to do this."

He suggested there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication at those meetings.

The fact remains, however, that WorkSafeBC has been working with the ski industry to bring it into compliance with Section 8.11 of the Act for more than a year.

"I can applaud (their decision) in essence because they're now leading the industry but certainly we see the industry, I'm hoping, moving in that direction for the next ski season."

Whistler Blackcomb wasn't looking to be the leader.

Chevalier said that WB only made the change, which will be enforced from May 4 on, because of the orders from the two WorkSafeBC officers.

"If they didn't ask us to do this, we wouldn't be doing it," he said simply.

"We were already in a process with WorkSafeBC to address our concerns with helmet use in some of our employees' routines."