Police at explosion and fire that killed two workers at Babine Forest Products sawmill, Burns Lake B.C., Jan. 20, 2012. (Laura Blackwell/Lakes District News)

WorkSafeBC changes called for after B.C. sawmill explosions

Investigation powers recommended for fatal industrial incidents like Burns Lake

WorkSafeBC should have a separate investigations unit for incidents like the fatal sawmill explosions that killed four workers in Burns Lake and Prince George in 2012, according to the B.C. government’s latest independent review.

The two explosions have been exhaustively studied, with both determined to have been triggered by accumulated wood dust from high-volume milling of dry trees killed by mountain pine beetle infestation. Two mill workers died in the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20, 2012, and two more died in a similar blast and fire at Lakeland Mills in Prince George on April 24 of that year.

The B.C. government hired Vancouver lawyer Lisa Helps earlier this year to follow up on two previous probes by the province into the circumstances and WorkSafeBC response. Improved inspections and better enforcement of dust cleaning were key recommendations in the years after the fatalities.

RELATED: Babine mill owners pay $1.1 million penalty for 2012 blast

RELATED: WorkSafeBC concludes wood dust caused fatal explosion

Helps recommended that WorkSafeBC restructure its fatal and serious incident investigation team from two teams to one. Other key recommendations include:

• The B.C. government should amend the Workers Compensation Act to include search and seizure authority. Currently WorkSafeBC investigators must apply for a search warrant under the Offence Act.

• The B.C. government should amend its occupational health and safety regulations to strengthen worker protections around the right to refuse unsafe work.


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