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Burnaby, B.C. – Less than two months before a deadly explosion at the Lakelands sawmill in Prince George, B.C., killed two workers, WorkSafeBC circulated an internal document stating the agency was concerned that an enforcement strategy to address wood dust in sawmills would lead to industry pushback, the United Steelworkers (USW) is revealing.
Following a sawmill explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, B.C., that killed two workers, WorkSafeBC produced an “issue management” document dated Feb. 27, 2012, titled “Wood Dust in Wood Product Manufacturing Facilities – Potent Fire and Explosion Hazards.”
Despite acknowledging the potential of wood dust to act as a fire and explosion cause, and noting a number of dust related fires and explosions in the preceding years, the document states: “Industry sensitivity to the issue given the recent event and limited clarity around what constitutes an explosion could lead to push back if an enforcement strategy is pursued at this time.”
Fifty-six days later, the Lakelands sawmill exploded.
“Premier Christy Clark made a promise to the families who lost loved ones in these explosions that there would be justice and answers forthcoming. To date, there has been neither. This internal document clearly demonstrates that WorkSafeBC was more concerned about pushback from industry CEOs than the health and safety of workers. If this does not call for a public inquiry, I don’t know what does,” says Stephen Hunt, USW Director for western Canada.
The document was obtained by the United Steelworkers through a Freedom of Information request after WorkSafeBC refused to provide it. The initial response to the FOI request resulted in a document that WorkSafeBC termed an “earlier version” that did not include the statement regarding industry sensitivity and pushback. A subsequent FOI request resulted in the document that includes the passage.
“WorkSafeBC should be ashamed of the lengths it went to cover up this internal document from the public. They are a public agency responsible for worker safety in British Columbia, but their behaviour has been secretive and their priorities have been skewed. How can workers in the province have any confidence in the leadership at WorkSafeBC?” asks Hunt.
The United Steelworkers is calling upon Premier Christy Clark and the Minister responsible for WorkSafeBC, Shirley Bond, to respond to these damning revelations by ordering a public inquiry.