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United Steelworkers statement on 10th anniversary of Babine sawmill explosion

Ten years ago, on January 20, 2012, two workers went to work at the Babine Forest Products sawmill near Burns Lake, B.C., and didn’t return home to their families. Twenty other workers were seriously injured.

“Ten years later, we continue to remember the tragic events at the Babine sawmill explosion that killed two workers and injured many more, and our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues on this difficult anniversary,” said Stephen Hunt, United Steelworkers District 3 Director. “There are still many people asking how this tragedy happened and how it could have been prevented. Today we are renewing our call for the provincial government to protect workers.”

In 2019, the B.C. Ministry of Labour contracted Vancouver lawyer Lisa Helps to review the actions by WorkSafeBC and the provincial government in relation to worker safety. Helps released her report later that year, making 11 recommendations to strengthen worker safety, ensure a criminal lens is applied to workplace fatalities and put workers back at the centre of WorkSafeBC.

While the government has made some progress implementing the recommendations from Helps, more needs to be done.

“What happened at the Babine sawmill should never have happened, and while we can’t change the past, we can work to make sure tragedies like these don’t happen again, and if they do, employers are held criminally accountable,” said Hunt. “It’s been over two years since Helps made her recommendations, and the implementation by the provincial government is overdue – it’s time to get going and it’s time for WorkSafeBC to get on with the combustible dust regulation review.”

The United Steelworkers union is renewing its call for the provincial government to implement the recommendations from the Lisa Helps report and to create ongoing training for police officers and Crown counsel for workplace criminal investigations.

“When police are called to a workplace fatality or serious injury, the police need to seize the scene and rule out criminality, not defer it to WorkSafeBC,” said Hunt. “A workplace fatality or injury should be treated no different than a car crash investigation by the police, it should not be a WorkSafeBC issue, and there should be proper workplace-specific training for the officers.”

Since the start of 2022, three Steelworkers in Canada have been killed in workplace fatalities, including one in British Columbia at the Interfor Acorn Division in Delta.

The United Steelworkers has a long history of standing up for the health and safety of workers. The union’s past efforts have resulted in the creation of the Westray Law and a dedicated Crown Attorney for forest industry fatalities. 

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For further information:

Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 Director, 604-816-2554, shunt@usw.ca
Ed Kent, USW District 3 Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator, 250-991-3090, ekent@usw.ca
Brett Barden, USW Communications, 604-445-6956, bbarden@usw.ca

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416-544-5946 or
416-894-7118

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