By: The Prince George Citizen
The provincial government will take a close look at the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest into the fatal Lakeland Mills explosion and fire, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Friday.
Twenty-two of the 33 recommendations were addressed to provincial ministries and agencies, many of them aimed at Jobs Minister Shirley Bond and WorkSafeBC.
“We’re going to take every single one of them very seriously,” Clark said.
Glenn Roche, 46, and Al Little, 43 died from the severe and extensive burns they suffered in the April 23, 2012 incident and more than 20 others were injured.
The jury concluded the deaths were accidental, meaning they were the result of unintended or unexpected events.
Many victims and their families remain unhappy that a public inquiry has not been held into the blast as well as into the Jan. 20, 2012 explosion that destroyed Babine Forest Products near Prince George, also killing two workers and injuring more than 20 others.
Investigators have found both explosions were fueled by the fine, dry sawdust from beetle-killed pine the mills had been processing. Although recognized as a fire hazard, the combustibility of the material in such a relatively open area as a sawmill was not previously recognized.
Clark said she can understand why people have been frustrated particularly given the problems with the WorkSafeBC investigations that followed.
“But we can’t go backward on that,” Clark said. “All we can try and do is understand what happened and understand what we need to do to prevent it happening again so that everybody will know, when they send their loved one to work, they’re going to come home safe.”
In part, the Criminal Justice Branch blamed a botched WorkSafeBC investigation for deciding not to pursue charges under the Workers Compensation Act, although it also said the owners would likely succeed on a defence of due diligence.
The inquest’s five-man jury adopted all 19 suggestions for recommendations that coroner Lisa Lapointe put forward and added 14 of their own.
Nine of the recommendations were addressed to WorkSafeBC and five to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism, Skills and Training.
Recommendations were also addressed to the B.C. Forest Safety Council, United Steelworkers, B.C. Ambulance Service, RCMP, the Office of the Fire Commissioner, the B.C. Ministry of Justice and the federal Attorney General the Canadian Standards Association and Sinclar Group Forest Products Ltd.
Strengthening joint health and safety committees, improving communication between emergency responders and adding teeth to enforcement and investigations were some of the jury’s aims.
John Orr, the coroner’s counsel at the inquest, said he is confident the recommendations will be acted upon even though they’re not binding.
“Generally they’re very effective,” Orr said Thursday following the conclusion of the inquest, in which 54 witnesses testified over 21 days.
He said the chief coroner distributes the recommendations to the parties named and then follows up to see how they’ve responded.
“And we nearly always get responses back,” Orr said. “People are very responsive to recommendations from a coroner’s inquest and historically they’ve made amazing changes in societies.”