Pleased to report that the issue of formaldehyde ventilation in the Biology labs that has impacted employees and students has finally been resolved. Attached is a timeline to demonstrate the work involved to be in compliance with WorkSafeBC. Much gratitude for the hard work and diligence of Robyn Wood and Soleille Cyr, co-chairs of the Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee (JOHS) and the JOHS Committee Members (Darko Bubica, Killian McGibney, Lars Warje).

2004 NW corner of level 3 BWY renovated to create 2 biology labs and a preparation room. Biology lab classes started running in 2004. Between 2004 and 2015 it was assumed that proper ventilation was in place and inspections were done by Facilities on a regular basis. The dangers of formaldehyde were not well understood until 2012. Specimen labeling and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) indicated trace or very low formaldehyde levels. It was generally thought to be a non-issue.
Sept 2012 JOHS and the Employer (ER) were made aware of designated substances (DS) requirements. DS are chemicals that are known to cause serious health effects with long-term occupational exposure (Asbestos & lead are good examples). WorkSafeBC has special requirements for working with these chemicals. Formaldehyde is a DS along with a number of other chemicals used at the College.
Jan 2013 After a full review of chemicals to identify DS’s, and the phase out of some, Science worked with JOHS to create plans for employee exposure testing for remaining chemicals that could not be phased out–including formaldehyde.
Nov 2013 Science re-requested funds for employee exposure testing.
June 2014 Employee exposure testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals in the Science Dept. completed. Chronic test levels came back as below but near the WorkSafeBC action level. Acute levels were not clearly specified. Based on understanding of the technical report, these levels were understood to be OK.
April 2015 Facilities had some extra funds. During a meeting about other issues, Science mentioned ventilation in biology may need to be looked at. On looking at ventilation to make plans for upgrades, Facilities noticed ventilation had major deficiencies. Air from Science labs recirculates to other areas of the College.
May 2015 Science lab deficiencies reported to JOHS.
June-Sept 2015 Robyn & Kei (Facilities) speak to staff at universities (local and some in the US) to figure out the style of ventilation that is currently standard for biology labs. Many of these institutions had upgraded their ventilation over the past decade. At this point it was discovered that the kind of ventilation that had been proposed for VCC Science labs, extra roof fans, would not be appropriate for formaldehyde. Ventilation that can remove air at the level of breathing zone is important, as formaldehyde is a heavy gas.
Oct 2015 General Service Agreement (GSA) in place for ventilation upgrades.
Nov 2015 Meeting to discuss scope of ventilation upgrades with contractors.
Dec 2015 Facilities determined that funding available is not enough to complete project. Likely because original understanding was that roof fans would be sufficient.
Jan 2016 Engineering firm creates design for ventilation system. Facilities puts in a capital request for FY 2016-2017.
Jan-Aug 2016 No updates. Waiting for budget approval.
Sept 2016 100K awarded for ventilation repairs.
Oct-Nov 2016 Meeting with contractors, not enough funds to repair problem in all Science classrooms and labs. It would cost close to 500K to repair, only 100K available. A plan is developed to install a fume hood in the biology prep room. The available budget would only solve part of the problem. This solution would reduce chronic exposure to workers, and also some incidences of acute exposure. It would not cover the classroom ventilation and students and employees would still be at risk during lab activities.
Nov-Dec 2016 JOHS forms a subcommittee to research & create a recommendation to ER to lay out the ventilation issue in detail and ask for repairs to the whole area to be completed.
Jan 2017 JOHS sends recommendation to ER. Response due in 21 days. ER determines not enough time to complete partial ventilation upgrades with 100K before end of fiscal. Project dropped.
Feb 2017 Employer responds to committee recommendation. Response indicates funds are not available for repairs. An interim solution is proposed by ER that would decrease recirculation of formaldehyde to other areas of the college but would not address employee and student exposure.
Mar-Apr 2017 JOHS discussed ER response, looked at options, and debated whether to contact WorkSafeBC or accept ER’s response.
May 2017 JOHS accepted ER response for now. Asked ER for a fresh round of employee exposure testing and planned to follow up in a few months around ventilation repair timeline. Science Lab staff visited other local colleges to look at their lab facilities. Took pictures and gathered information by talking to staff. Made sure to find out information about ventilation.
Aug-Sept 2017 Employee testing for formaldehyde completed. Chronic exposure based on a “worst case scenario day” was just above the WorkSafeBC action level. Acute exposure was below the limit in many cases, but also well above the limit in a number of situations. Results and recommendations from occupational hygienist sent to JOHS, Science Dept. and ER.
Sept 2017 Concerned about employee exposure results and apparent impasse around ventilation, JOHS voted to contact WorkSafeBC to ask for an investigation. WorkSafeBC was called in late Sept. ER was asked by the JOHS about timeline and plans for repairs to ventilation. They responded that they have no updates.
Oct 2017 In response to test results, Science Dept. updated and improved safe work procedures for students and employees.
Dec 2017 WorkSafeBC did not do an onsite investigation. Did a report based on information emailed by the ER. WorkSafeBC did not create any orders based on understanding that the ER was in the process of securing funding for repairs.
April 2018 CUPE files grievance #180406-02 as VCC had gone through yet another budget cycle failing to allocate any funds to remedy this ongoing health issue. WorkSafeBC gets involved. Inspection and Notice of Compliance (NOC) #201816631004A issued.
Jun-Aug 2018 Grievance meetings held.   As there is an NOC the grievance is put in abeyance while VCC, after 7+ years of inactivity and exposure to employees and students, finally addresses the health and safety issue as WorkSafeBC has intervened. Zero doubt that without WorkSafeBC, JOHS and Union coordinated efforts this issue still would not be addressed.
March 2019 Fume hoods finally installed. Waiting on WorkSafeBC to follow up on the order as per JOHS minutes.
May 2019 WorkSafeBC does final inspection in Biology labs for the fume hood project. They were satisfied and removed final order.