WorkSafeBC has assessed penalties totalling more than $1 million against Babine Forest Products for violations of worker safety law and regulations that led to the 2012 explosion and fire at the Burns Lake sawmill.
The decision released Thursday includes an “administrative penalty” of $97,000 for violations and $914,139.62 in a “claims cost levy” based on costs of compensation paid out for injury or death of workers. It was calculated from total payouts by WorkSafeBC of more than $5 million for the incident.
Two mill workers died and 20 others were injured when an explosion and fire tore through the Babine Forest Products sawmill on Jan. 20, 2012. On April 23, 2012 a similar explosion killed two workers and injured 22 more at Lakeland Mills in Prince George.
The explosions have been traced to accumulated dry, fine sawdust generated by cutting dry wood killed by the mountain pine beetle, then ignited by hot equipment. The WorkSafeBC investigation documented inspections and efforts to clean up dust in sawmills before the explosions, and a more intense inspection system has been put in place for mills across the province.
Labour Minister Shirley Bond said the Babine penalty is “probably the largest ever assessed in British Columbia” and rejected suggestions that it was simply to get back some of the money paid out to workers and their families.
“It is done very rarely, and to suggest this is cost recovery is simply wrong,” Bond said. “Employers pay premiums with every pay period to actually cover the costs of accidents.”
NDP labour critic Harry Baines said he expects the company will exercise its option to appeal.
“These administrative penalties will not do anything to keep workers safe, which is what the victims and their families are now focused on,” Baines said.
The Council of Forest Industries has developed its own standard for dust control.