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No charges laid in Lakeland sawmill explosion

By COS staff
| www.cos-mag.com

British Columbia's Criminal Justice Branch has decided not to pursue charges in the Lakeland Mills sawmill explosion that killed two workers and seriously injured several others in 2012.

In its decision released April 14, the Criminal Justice Branch said that WorkSafeBC failed to warn the mill, based in Prince George, B.C., about the combustible dust hazards, and that its investigation was insufficient. 

“I am deeply sorry for what the families and our community have had to go through and we owe it to them to make sure we prevent this from ever happening again," said Shirley Bond, the minister of jobs, tourism and skills training and the minister responsible for labour.

Bond issued a statement outlining the steps the provincial government is undertaking to protect worker safety, including:

• making sure WorkSafeBC's investigations are handled correctly for future prosecutions

• ensuring that what happened at these two sawmills doesn't happen again and risk the lives of workers

• driving change in the culture and process at WorkSafeBC.

"While we await the results of her inquest, we need to move forward even more decisively on reform at WorkSafeBC," said Bond.

In her statement, Bond announced that WorkSafeBC is under new management. The chair and board of WorkSafeBC have agreed to appoint Gord Macatee as the new administrator to drive reform at WorkSafeBC. Macatee is an experienced executive with service at the most senior levels of government.

Bond met with Macatee and WorkSafeBC to provide direction on the agenda of change that he will lead. That direction includes:

• Ensuring future investigations are handled correctly by implementing recommendations from the Dyble Report.

• Ensuring our sawmills are safe workplaces by implementing the 90-day action plan on sawmill safety.

• Review workers’ compensation boards in other jurisdictions, to understand the merits of and determine best practices in organizational structures specifically relating to the separation of enforcement versus regulation.

• Develop a plan for implementing a world-class inspection and investigation regime, incorporating best practices, workforce review and enhanced training.

• Provide a single status report by July 1, consolidating the plans and reports noted in the above items.

• Conduct the search for and finalize the appointment of a new and permanent CEO.

"Families and friends of the victims of the Lakeland and Babine explosions are continuing to grieve," said Bond. "Together, we are addressing the pressing need to both restore confidence in WorkSafeBC investigations and to make sure workers and families never again face circumstances like those at Babine and Lakeland.”

WorkSafeBC is considering whether it will issue an administrative penalty against Lakeland, and it is conducting focused inspections on sawmills throughout the province "to ensure that the lessons learned from these tragic events are not lost and worker safety and health remains the priority of the industry and all the workplace parties," it said.

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