WorkSafe BC report shows new dual-investigation tool following mill explosions

VICTORIA - Workplace disasters that kill or injure employees in British Columbia are now more likely to result in criminal charges with the introduction of a new investigation model that improves the chances of prosecutions, says a WorkSafeBC administrator.

Gord Macatee's report calling for an overhaul of inspection and investigation methods at WorkSafeBC stems from two explosions at provincial sawmills that killed four workers and injured 40 others.

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His report details progress on safety measures at B.C. sawmills and more stringent investigation measures at workplace incidents.

"To me, that's the bottom line point of this, that if a prosecution is needed WorkSafe has the tools to do it and be successful," he said at a news conference. "Yes, I believe they are equipped where they need to use that tool to be successful."

The new investigation system has been in place since September.

Labour Minister Shirley Bond called for changes at WorkSafeBC last spring to restore public confidence in the worker protection agency's investigations when no charges were laid over the sawmill explosions just months apart in 2012 at Burns Lake and Prince George.

She appointed Macatee, who's the BC Ferries Commissioner, as WorkSafeBC administrator in April.

In both explosions, B.C.'s Justice Ministry said flawed WorkSafeBC investigation techniques were primarily responsible for decisions by the Criminal Justice Branch not to lay charges.

In January 2012, an explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake killed two workers and injured 19 others. The April, 2012 blast at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George resulted in two deaths and 22 injuries.

Injured mill workers and the Opposition New Democrats have been calling for a public inquiry into the explosions.

Last March, some of the workers and their families appeared at the legislature to ask Premier Christy Clark to call an inquiry. A coroner's inquest into both blasts is set for March 2015 in Prince George.

Carl Charlie, 42, and Robert Luggi, 45, died in the Burns Lake explosion while 43-year-old Alan Little and Glenn Roche, 46, were killed in the Lakeland mill explosion in Prince George.

Macatee said the new investigation model is based on a dual system that preserves the ability to conduct investigations for both cause and prosecutions at the scene of accidents or incidents. He said the prosecution team will be called in by a WorkSafeBC gatekeeper who will ensure evidence is protected and admissible to the courts.

"The model creates two distinct teams to have their work and files completely separated," he said.

Macatee said he expects special constables to be appointed next year to become part of the investigation process.

Of the 43 recommendations in the WorkSafeBC progress report, 13 have been fully implemented so far, 18 are in progress and 12 require legislative change, he said.

He said the overwhelming majority of B.C. sawmills are managing combustible dust issues at their work sites. Dust accumulations at the mills are believed to be involved in both mill explosions.

He said most mills are conducting their own daily inspections for dust accumulations and 22 are being inspected by WorkSafeBC.

"This is strong evidence the industry is serious about managing combustible dust," he said.

He said from Oct. 6 to Nov. 25 of 118 mills were monitored for dust by WorkSafeBC, two received orders to manage their dust properly and one stop-work order was issued.

"This is a dramatic improvement from where things stood six months ago," he said.

WorkSafeBC also announced Tuesday that Diana Miles was appointed its new president and chief executive officer.

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