Unique hotel program wins safety award

East Side SRO Project wins 2010 CSSE/BC Special Projects award

Safety is a big issue for hotel managers with properties in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – a neighbourhood known for its struggle with poverty and addiction. Recently a trio of researchers won a Special Project award from the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering for their Downtown East Side SRO Project that addresses safety for workers and residents.

Suzanne Jean of Watari Research, and Gordon Harkness and Dave Scott of WorkSafeBC were honoured at the 2010 Safety Forum ceremony on Oct. 21.

The award-winning manual is the first of its kind in Canada – originally developed by Watari Research in 2003 to help hotel managers dealing with high risk situations. It covers buidling maintenance, fire safety, security matters, risk of violence, and exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

In 2010, WorkSafeBC published the course content in written format: Building Owners’ Manual for SRO Buildings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

This is a hotel in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in April 2008. T Main photo

Advice from the manual

Building managers are supposed to:

  • Know your tenants – use common sense – be aware of their idiosyncrasies, watch for signs of escalating behaviour, know what is outside of their “norm” and what triggers some people to aggression
  • Be aware of dependency issues, history of violence, mental health issues and needs
  • Develop rules that are fair to everyone – apply them!
  • Respect people’s personal space
  • If there is a confrontation, bring your tenants out into the open – have a barrier such as a desk, between you and them
  • Have an exit behind you – don’t block it

Watching out for residents as well as workers

I’m glad to see the manual advocates for the safety of residents, along with the workers. The manual reminds employers that: “As the building owner, you must provide heat and hot water. It is good practice to ensure that all your heating systems are in good working order prior to the onset of the cold weather.”

People can be so vulnerable in those settings. It’s good to see the manual reiterates these legal requirements. I’ve heard terrible stories about DTES hotels run by slumlords who ignored infestations, mould, and murder – and it’s a relief to see that many of them are now being managed by ethical organizations who know and love the population of residents.


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