A Lower Mainland demolition contractor who repeatedly exposed unprotected employees, many of them teenagers, to deadly asbestos has been sent to prison for 60 days, a rare example of a jail term for workplace safety infractions.

Lawyer Scott Nielsen said it was the first time in 25 years of pursuing unsafe employers through the courts that one of them had gone to jail.

“This is a positive step in the direction of workers’ safety. It sends a strong message,” Mr. Nielsen said.

After Tuesday’s brief court hearing, contractor Arthur Moore was led away by sheriffs to begin serving his sentence.

Mr. Moore had been found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring numerous safety orders and a court injunction to halt work practices that imperilled his employees.

“[He deliberately put] workers at risk by exposing them to asbestos fibres, a deadly carcinogen,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Richard Goepel said.

“Mr. Moore’s indifference to the lives and safety of his workers, and his open defiance of the injunction, requires a severe response.”

Mr. Nielsen said he was not at all disappointed the prison sentence fell short of the six months to a year he had asked the court to impose. “I think the court meant to send a message – and they did.”

According to evidence accepted at earlier court proceedings, Mr. Moore specialized in extremely low bids to demolish old residences – often hiring people as young as 14 from halfway houses to do the work – without testing sites for the presence of asbestos.

Employees were sent in without masks, special gloves or any other protective clothing to guard against exposure to asbestos fibres, which can lead to asbestosis.

In 2009, 44 per cent of all work-related deaths in B.C. were tied to long-ago exposure to asbestos.

Within 24 hours of a Supreme Court injunction issued against him to abide by workplace safety orders that he stop putting his employees at risk, Mr. Moore was back doing the same thing, court was told.

For union leaders, however, the unusual prison term handed out in the case was bittersweet. While pleased that Mr. Moore was sent to jail, they were unhappy it was for only 60 days.

“These workers face a potential death sentence from cancer, and Arthur Moore will walk free in two months. That’s totally wrong,” said Lee Loftus, president of the BC and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council.

“It’s a victory, someone finally going to jail for their activities … but we are also extremely disappointed. For what he did, it just doesn’t make sense to get 60 days for that,” Mr. Loftus said outside the court.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair agreed.

He pointed out that Mr. Moore was sentenced for contempt of court, not for the actual act of giving “a whole bunch of workers, including a 14-year-old kid, a potential death sentence for asbestosis. He should have got a year.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Sinclair said, “the bottom line is he got something, and an employer in this province is going to see the inside of a jail.”

Both union leaders called for Mr. Moore to face criminal prosecution over his unsafe work practices.

In meting out the sentence, Judge Goepel noted that Mr. Moore, who did not have a lawyer, apologized to the court and was now doing community service work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

But he told the contractor: “You deliberately flaunted for an extended time a court order intended to protect worker safety. … Such conduct cannot go unpunished

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The owner of the Black Mag plant in Colebrook, where two men were killed and one severely injuried in a 2010 explosion, has been indicted on manslaughter and negligent homicide charges.

Craig Sanborn was indicted by the Coos County Grand Jury in connection with the May 14, 2010, explosion that killed Jesse Kennett, 49, and Donald Kendall, 56. A third employee was injured in an explosion at the plant that once produced gunpowder.

The explosion at Millennium Design Muzzleloaders plant in the Colebrook Industrial Park rocked downtown Colebrook. Coos County Attorney Robert McKeel said the indictments handed down late Friday.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said they were not aware of the plant before the explosion, but afterwards concluded there were huge safety problems and blamed Sanborn, who denied being at fault.

An OSHA investigation determined that the workers had been required to hand feed powder into operating equipment. Following the investigation, OSHA issued the plant 54 workplace safety and health citations with penalties totaling $1.2 million.

The company initially contested the OSHA penalties, but withdrew its notice of contest and agreed that it violated the OSHA Act. The company has certified that it ceased operation “when the 2010 explosion destroyed the facility and put it out of business,” according to OSHA officials.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sanborn, of Maidstone, Vt., the president and primary owner, was barred from ever making explosives again in the future.

John R. Wiehl and the company, Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry, Inc., pleaded guilty to unlawfully storing hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Wiehl, 64, is the president of the foundry, which is located in Franklin, N.H. The company manufactures a variety of metal parts for various industrial applications. A byproduct of the foundry’s operation is the generation of waste containing hazardous or toxic concentrations of lead and cadmium. Exposure to lead and cadmium can cause or contribute to a range of health effects, including behavioral problems, learning disabilities and kidney disease.

In April and August 2009, two workplace inspections conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the company was illegally storing hazardous waste. Under RCRA, a generator may not store hazardous waste at its facility for more than 90 days without a permit. OSHA reported the findings of their inspections to EPA. In December 2009, EPA executed a search warrant at the foundry and discovered drums of hazardous waste stored on the premises.

In August 2010, a federal grand jury indicted Wiehl and Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry for unlawfully accumulating and storing lead and cadmium hazardous waste at the foundry site since July 2005. Neither Wiehl nor the company had been issued a permit to store hazardous waste for more than 90 days. The company was cited by EPA for similar violations in 2002 and 2005, but neither the company nor Wiehl previously faced criminal charges.

Wiehl faces a possible maximum sentence of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Under the terms of a plea agreement filed with the court, the United States Attorney’s Office has agreed to recommend that he serve two years of probation, six months of house arrest, and that he publish a public apology.