Steelworkers Urge Government To Implement Recommendations From Sawmill Explosions Review

BURNABY, BC, Dec. 2, 2019 - Nearly eight years after two sawmill explosions in northern British Columbia claimed the lives of four people and injured dozens more, the United Steelworkers (USW) is responding to the release of a review of actions by WorkSafeBC and government in relation to worker safety.

The report, undertaken by lawyer Lisa Helps, makes 11 recommendations to strengthen worker safety, ensure that a criminal lens is applied to situations of workplace death and most importantly, put workers back at the centre of WorkSafeBC. Four of the recommendations require amending provincial legislation.

"The most important thing to do is acknowledge the workers who lost their lives, the survivors whose lives have been forever changed and the family members and larger communities of Burns Lake and Prince George that have been impacted by tragedies that should have never happened," says Stephen Hunt, United Steelworkers District 3 Director.

"The days of these two explosions will be indelibly etched on the entire province," Hunt says. "The recommendations are long overdue and must be urgently implemented by the provincial government. Taken together, this is an important step in ensuring that WorkSafeBC's first mandate is to protect workers."

Hunt says that the previous B.C. Liberal government's deregulation and dismantling of rules that were intended to keep workers safe have come at a heavy cost.

"Too many workers in British Columbia have died on the job and too many employers have treated those deaths as the cost of doing business. Every incident of workplace death or injury causing serious bodily harm must be investigated with a criminal lens until criminality can be ruled out."

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Create a Worker Ombudsperson position.
  • Amend the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation to strengthen the right to refuse unsafe work.
  • Ongoing training for police officers and Crown counsel for workplace criminal investigations.
  • Designated police contacts for criminal code offences involving workplace death. 

"The sawmill explosions are a heartbreaking, but familiar story of incompetence, mismanagement, deceit, apathy and cover up from the agencies that are responsible for keeping workers safe. The review sadly confirms this and makes important recommendations that previous government-commissioned reports failed to do. It should never require the tragic loss of life to do the right thing," says Hunt.

"When implemented, these recommendations will increase B.C. workers' confidence that WorkSafeBC and other government agencies are fulfilling their responsibility to protect, promote and enhance the safety of all workers," Hunt says.


For further information:

Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 Director, 604-816-2554, shunt@usw.ca

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