Review of worker safety underway, 7 years after deadly B.C. mill explosions

May 1, 2019

By: The Working Forest Staff

CBC NEWS — The union representing four workers who died in two British Columbia sawmill explosions in 2012 says it hopes a new review of worker safety ordered by the provincial government will lead to overdue justice for survivors and families of the victims.

In a report by CBC NEWS, Steve Hunt, district director for the United Steelworkers union, said previous inquiries into the explosions at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake and Lakeland Mills in Prince George raised more questions than answers, and he hopes the new review prevents similar disasters from happening in the future.

“The best I can hope for out of this is we don’t do a repeat ever in any industry, and we make an adjustment that makes a societal change. This one screams for that,” Hunt said.

The B.C. Ministry of Labour says it has contracted Vancouver lawyer Lisa Helps to assess how WorkSafeBC implemented worker safety recommendations in the wake of the explosions, which, in total, killed four workers and injured 42.

Helps will also provide advice on potential legislative changes to improve worker safety in the province in her report to the attorney general, which is due mid-July.

The inquest into the Babine blast ruled a pair of workers died accidentally. A WorkSafeBC investigation revealed an accumulation of wood dust was a major factor in the disaster that also injured 19 other workers and flattened the mill. (CBC)

Coroner’s inquests were previously conducted into the deaths and the government commissioned two other reports in 2014 — the Dyble report and Macatee report. Together, they made recommendations directed at government and other agencies.

The inquest into the Babine blast ruled a pair of workers died accidentally. A WorkSafeBC investigation revealed an accumulation of wood dust was a major factor in the disaster, which also injured 19 other workers and flattened the mill.

But Hunt said he has been advocating for a further review and alleges WorkSafeBC, also known as the Workers’ Compensation Board, mishandled its part of the investigation in a way that prevented criminal charges from being laid in either case.

“The two biggest investigations in the Workers’ Compensation Board’s history were both botched so badly that they couldn’t prosecute either criminally or through regulation or through the act,” he said. “They failed to take reasonable care to ensure people who might be subject to court proceeding were read their rights.”

He accused WorkSafeBC of acting in the interests of industry instead of the workers it is supposed to represent, pointing to a document written by a WorkSafeBC manager in February 2012 — after the first explosion and before the second.

In it, the manager wrote that WorkSafeBC needed to raise awareness among its officers about wood dust following the Babine explosion and other related fires.

See more HERE.

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