Vanderhoof business Everything for Ewe is facing $5,000 in fines from WorkSafeBC following an attempt to inspect the retail location for COVID-19 safety compliance. The business is appealing the fine.
Owner Ankie Nellen told the Express that throughout the pandemic the business has allowed customers to decide whether or not to wear masks — which was “stated clearly” on a sign that customers would see before walking in.
“We never wear masks. That’s a personal thing and we leave it up to the customers,” Nellen said.
“We don’t ask the customers why they don’t want to wear a mask. It’s their choice.”
Nellen said she and her husband were asked to wear and require masks in the business, and to install a COVID-19 protective divider at the service desk, but they refused.
The business put a table in front of the counter to maintain social distance and had a curbside pickup option.
WorkSafeBC officer Heath De La Giroday wrote in his inspection report that he observed people exiting the store without masks, and not wearing masks in the store area during an inspection in October.
He emailed the business ahead of another inspection noting “the employer indicated that I was banned from the site.”
When officers attended the business on Jan. 5, 2022 they were obstructed from conducting their inspection. The business had to submit a notice of compliance report that remained outstanding, and a penalty was issued on March 1.
Nellen said WorkSafeBC officers had already visited and they were on a tight shipment deadline that day.
“We said ‘come back another day please.’ We didn’t kick them out, we just asked them to leave.”
Spokesperson Yesenia Dhott said WorkSafeBC can’t speak to claims made by the business owner.
Public Health had requirements for the public to wear masks in indoor settings at the time. The requirement has now been lifted.
Dhott noted WorkSafeBC could issue orders for non-compliance if COVID-19 safety plan criteria were not met.
Nellen also claimed Northern Health “approved the way we work” and that the business “never had any problems with Northern Health.”
Northern Health Regional Manager of Media Relations and Public Affairs Eryn Collins confirmed a warning letter was issued on November 4, 2021 to Everything for Ewe, over compliance with the provincial health officer’s order for face coverings.
Northern Health also didn’t provide ‘approval’ for specific establishments’ COVID-19 safety plans, Collins said.
While measures like curbside pickup and ensuring physical distancing are among options for establishments to include in their COVID-19 safety plans, those measures would be in addition to any public health orders like face coverings and proof of vaccination.
Nellen said they are appealing because WorkSafeBC’s demands “just didn’t make any sense.”
“We’re appealing it because it was uncalled for,” Nellen said.
“We did everything they wanted except for putting masks on and the shield in front because he wanted us to partition the desk where we give parcels out.”