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United Steelworkers statement on 10th anniversary of Lakeland Mills explosion

Ten years ago, on April 23, 2012, two dozen workers were on shift at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, B.C., when a fatal explosion and fire ripped through the mill. Two workers, Alan Little and Glenn Roche, were killed while 22 others were left injured.

“It’s hard to believe it has been ten years since the tragic explosion at Lakeland Mills that claimed the lives of two workers and injured and scarred so many others for their lifetime,” said Brian O’Rourke, USW Local 1-2017 President. “The Lakeland Mills explosion and the Babine Forest Products explosion a few months prior are two dates that will remain stained in my memory forever.”

“Today, we remember the lives lost and those injured in this fatal incident. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and Steelworkers on this very difficult anniversary,” said Scott Lunny, USW District 3 Director.

Lakeland Mills was warned about the risk of an explosion caused by sawdust just 11 days before the April 2012 blast. According to an investigation that followed, the sawdust buildup was a direct result of management ignoring workers’ concerns and a decline in the cleanliness of the mill.

“What happened at Lakeland Mills was a tragedy that could have been prevented,” said Lunny. “Since the tragic explosions, the United Steelworkers union has called for governments to improve safety in the wood processing industry and to make sure workplace fatalities are investigated with a criminal lens and prosecuted under the Westray Law.”

“Our efforts are working, but as long as employers continue to get away with seeing workers’ lives as expendable and simply a cost of doing business, our fight to protect workers will continue,” said Lunny.

In 2019, the B.C. Ministry of Labour contracted Vancouver lawyer Lisa Helps to review the actions by WorkSafeBC and the provincial government concerning 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.

“We can’t afford not to take action when workers continue to be killed across our province,” said Ed Kent, USW District 3 Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator. “It’s been over two years since Lisa Helps made recommendations. It’s time for the B.C. government to implement her recommendations by creating ongoing training for police officers and Crown counsel when conducting workplace criminal investigations. We also need WorkSafeBC to get on with their combustible dust regulation review to ensure tragic incidents, such as the Lakeland sawmill explosion, never happen again.”

The United Steelworkers union represents 225,000 members in nearly every economic sector across Canada and is the largest private-sector union in North America with 850,000 members in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.

Each year, thousands of workers choose to join the USW because of our strong track record in creating healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces and negotiating better working conditions and fairer compensation – including good wages, benefits and pensions.

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For further information:

Scott Lunny, USW District 3 Director, 604-329-5308, slunny@usw.ca
Brian O’Rourke, USW Local 1-2017 President, 250-563-7771, brian@usw1-2017.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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