Theresa and Kenny Michell call for mill safety improvements at the B.C. legislature

New powers for WorkSafeBC after sawmill blasts

Investigators hired to impose penalties, protect evidence and shut down unsafe workplaces

VICTORIA – The B.C. government is giving WorkSafeBC new powers to shut down workplaces, impose penalties on the spot, collect evidence and compel payment of fines against employers who don’t comply with safety rules.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond has introduced legislation to complete the overhaul of WorkSafeBC in the wake of the 2012 sawmill explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George that killed four workers and injured 44 more.

The amendments will give the B.C. Supreme Court authority to order work to stop due to unsafe conditions and “expand the court’s authority to bar the worst offenders from continuing to operate in an industry,” Bond told the legislature Wednesday.

Bond ordered a review of WorkSafeBC investigation procedures after Crown prosecutors said they would not lay charges, because potential court evidence was not adequately protected in the Babine and Lakeland sawmill investigations.

Gord Macatee, the official in charge of the review, said the legislation will complete his recommended changes by June. It also puts the onus on employers to show that they have done “due diligence” to prevent accidents, instead of leaving it to WorkSafeBC to decide.

A new team of WorkSafeBC investigators has been trained to step in for cases that could result in negligence charges, Macatee said. And extra inspectors have been hired to monitor sawmills and other businesses on nights and weekends.

“At this point we have 16 prevention officers on regular night and weekend shift schedule, and 26 additional officers have been recruited who will be working on those shifts as well,” Macatee said.

Inspections were stepped up in all B.C. wood products mills after the fatal explosions of fine dry wood dust. Macatee said most mills have had safe dust control and other safety practices since before the explosions, but there have been cases where employers didn’t comply or pay penalties ordered by WorkSafeBC.

“We’ve seen situations where an operator will go out of business and re-emerge under a different corporate name and go on and do the same kind of work,” Macatee said.