New review of worker safety underway seven years after B.C. mill explosions

Attorney general will make public any recommendations related to improving processes or legislation

Smoke rises from the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. 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. Steve Hunt, district director for the United Steelworkers union, said previous inquiries into the explosions at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills raised more questions than answers and he hopes the new review prevents similar disasters from happening in the future. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

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.

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 that killed four and injured 42 workers.

READ MORE: Companies appeal fines in B.C. sawmill explosions that killed four workers

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

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 that 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.

“Industry sensitivity to the issue given the recent event and limited clarity around what constitutes an explosion could lead to pushback if an enforcement strategy is pursued at this time,” the document said.

Hunt said he wants to see the workers protected, more RCMP officers trained in workplace investigations and criminal charges laid for negligence in the incidents.

He said he still thinks about a meeting years ago he had with dozens of survivors in a room who shared their experiences with him.

“They’ll never be the same, ever. Many have injuries they won’t ever recover from and it was awful. The system just simply failed them,” he said.

WorkSafeBC did not immediately respond to Hunt’s criticisms, but provided a statement saying the company is looking forward to working with Helps.

“We are always looking for ways to improve the health and safety of B.C. workplaces. We look forward to assisting the reviewer in her work,” Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services, said in an emailed statement.

It also pointed to the Macatee report on WorkSafeBC’s review and action plan that found all of the 43 recommendations in the Dyble report had been implemented by March 1, 2016.

Gordon Macatee was tasked with writing the report after flawed investigative techniques were cited by the Crown for its decision not to lay criminal charges in both sawmill explosions.

The report published in April 2016 said WorkSafeBC had overhauled its investigation process and an agreement was in place to work with police services and the Criminal Justice Branch.

In preparing her report, Helps will seek input from relevant stakeholders and staff in WorkSafeBC and the ministries of Attorney General, Public Safety and Solicitor General, and Labour, the provincial government said. She will also invite workers affected by the explosions, and their families, to share their perspectives on the issues under review.

After review, the attorney general will make public any recommendations related to improving processes or legislation.

“Government is stepping up to provide important and overdue answers to families and victims to ensure that resources are in place to prevent similar tragedies from happening again,” the province said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Get your head out of clouds, Vernon

Fall fog sticks around all day in northern portion of valley

North Okanagan district seeks applicants for waste management advisory group

RDNO looking for 15 people from business, community sectors for working group

Leave gravesites alone: Vernon mother

Woman noticed the flower loop was missing from her son’s plot on the anniversary of his death

Man gets 18 months jail for dealing heroin, fentanyl in Vernon

Sung Hwan Choi, 23, found guilty of trafficking drugs from Lower Mainland in May 2019

Open house event to honour Vernon pillar Nahal

City councillor, event organizer and volunteer Dalvir Nahal to be celebrated Sunday

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

Security guard at Kamloops music festival gets three years for sexually assaulting concertgoer

Shawn Christopher Gray walked the woman home after she became seperated from her friends, court heard

Keremeos Fire Department acquires new truck

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen approves fire truck purchases for Keremeos, Willowbrook

Wharton Street in Summerland open for traffic once again

Road closure had been in place for past five months for upgrade work

Penticton RCMP do not intend to review sexual assault stats

Eleven out of 29 sexual assault cases in Penticton were deemed unfounded in 2018

Algae bloom killing farmed fish on Vancouver Island’s West Coast

DFO says four Cermaq Canada salmon farms affected, fish not infectious

Three cops investigated in connection to ex-Vancouver detective’s sexual misconduct

Fisher was convicted in 2018 after pleading guilty to kissing two young women who were witnesses in a criminal case

Violence response procedures updated for B.C. schools, police

ERASE program expands to target gangs, bullying of students

Most Read