Lawyer to review WorkSafeBC followups to sawmill explosions

A Vancouver lawyer has been contracted by the provincial government to assess how well WorkSafeBC has taken up recommendations to improve worker safety in the wake of the fatal explosions at two northern B.C. sawmills in early 2012.

Lisa Helps will also provide advice on potential legislative changes, the Ministry of Labour said in a statement issued this month.

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Coroner's inquests were conducted into the deaths of four workers - Glenn Roche, 46, Alan Little, 43, Robert Luggi, 45, and Carl Charlie, 42 - who died in the Jan. 20, 2012, Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion near Burns Lake and the April 24, 2012, Lakeland Mills explosion in Prince George.

Juries in both inquests produced series of recommendations, as did the authors of two reports, John Dyble and Gord Macatee.

Helps will also seek input from relevant stakeholders and staff in WorkSafeBC and the ministries of attorney general, public safety and solicitor general, and labour. She will also invite workers affected by the explosions, and their families, to share their perspectives on the issues under review, the ministry said.

Helps is to deliver a report of her own with recommendations to Attorney General David Eby by mid-July. After review, he is to make public any recommendations related to improving processes or legislation.

The United Steelworkers District 3 president Stephen Hunt welcomed the move and said the union looks forward to participating fully in the process. The USW was shut out of the original investigation, he added.

The USW pulled its lawyer from the coroner's inquest into the Lakeland disaster over concern it would not be able to hold WorkSafeBC accountable for what it called a bungled handling of the investigation. The union also called for a public inquiry.

Among the outcomes Hunt would like to see from Helps' review is improved enforcement of the so-called Westray Law that would see employers found guilty of criminal negligence in the deaths of employees sent to jail.

He said the RCMP's investigation was limited to determining whether bombs were the sources of the explosions and left it at that.

"We also want the RCMP properly trained, so that they do know what their job is in the case of an occupational death or an injury causing serious bodily harm - that's what the Criminal Code says," Hunt said on Monday. "And they can't pick and choose what parts of the Criminal Code they enforce or erroneously not enforce."

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