Six deaths at area sawmills already this year have raised fresh concerns about safety practices.
"This clearly is an unusual year," said Donna Freeman, a spokeswoman for WorkSafeBC. "When you look at the events, it's unique."
Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi Jr., both died in January in an explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake. Then, Glenn Roche and Alan Little died when the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George exploded in April.
Additionally, George Park Jr., died at the Canfor's Plateau mill in Vanderhoof in May.
Most recently Mika Saario died while working to disassemble part of a Conifex mill in Fort St. James.
However his death may be classified by WorkSafeBC as a construction incident since the section of the mill he was working in wasn't operating at the time.
Prior to the rash of accidents this year, there hadn't been a sawmill death in the region since November 2006.
"I don't know why forestry deaths seem to come in clusters, but they do," Barb McLintock, a spokeswoman for the BC Corners Service said.
The coroners office has a specialized resource co-ordinator in charge of looking at deaths of the forest industry because of the importance and inherent dangers of the industry.
"We can keep an eye out to see if there's any common threads, see if there's any trends, see if there's anything we ought to be making recommendations about or identifying in particular," McLintock said. "I'm sure that will be done as these half-dozen (cases) come to conclusion."
Whenever there is a serious injury at a job site, WorkSafeBC and the coroners service send in teams to try to determine the cause of the accident and how similar incidents can be prevented. The WorkSafeBC investigators make sure the site is safe and interview witnesses as well as test any relevant equipment to make it's operating appropriately. The coroner decides if an autopsy is required and what other tests, such as toxicology, need to be run on the body.
The accumulation of sawdust in mills is one area WorkSafeBC has looked at to try to address safety in the aftermath of the explosions and mills have been ordered to address the issue. Freeman said the provincial body will look at other ways to reduce the risk.
"(Mills) have very large machinery. There can be dangerous conditions in mills," she said. "So mills have always been part of our high-risk focus under the umbrella of forestry. This year is clearly an anomaly."
Once the WorkSafeBC report is complete it's forwarded on to the coroner, at which point the coroner's office decides whether a full inquest is required. An inquest can be used to link similar workplace deaths, but McLintock said it's too early to say if one will be called to deal with the recent sawmill deaths.
WorkSafeBC reviews each employment sector annually to make sure the organization is focussed on the most important areas.
"Some years you'll have more of a focus on agriculture because we've had a couple of very, very serious incidents in that sector that involved multiple deaths," Freeman said. "Forestry is always a focus because of the inherent nature of the business and the occupations involved."
Province-wide there have been an average of 12.4 forest sector deaths per year over the last 10 years, according to statistics compiled by WorkSafeBC. However that average ballooned due to 27 deaths in 2005 alone. Those numbers include all aspects of forestry, from woodlands operations to transportation to mills.
The general trend in recent years is fewer deaths in the primary resources industries, which includes forestry, fishing, agriculture, oil and gas and mining. From a high of 41 in 2005 the number of fatalities reached a low of 13 in 2010 before creeping back up to 18 last year.
Construction is another industry that has a higher risk of serious injury and deaths while healthcare has a high incidence of injuries, though not nearly as many deaths.