POLITICS

Agencies commit to scrutinize B.C. coroner's inquest directions after mill blast

05/15/2015 02:00 EDT | Updated 05/15/2016 05:59 EDT
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - Agencies targeted in a British Columbia coroner's inquest are committing to review a number of recommendations made after a deadly sawmill explosion in Prince George, B.C.

A five-person jury deliberated for eight hours Thursday before it released 33 recommendations and ruled that the 2012 blast at Lakeland Mills was accidental.

The recommendations are directed at a variety of agencies, including WorkSafeBC, the RCMP, B.C. Ambulance Service and provincial, federal and municipal governments.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said Friday her ministry will evaluate the situation and then take steps to ensure B.C. workers are safe.

"We will do everything we can to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again," she said in a statement.

Workers Alan Little and Glenn Roche died from severe burns suffered in the April 2012 explosion. More than 20 other employees were injured.

It was the second fatal blast at a B.C. sawmill within months and raised alarm throughout the forest industry.

Two workers were also killed in the explosion at the Babine Forests Products sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C., in January 2012.

After the investigation was complete, WorkSafeBC recommended charges under provincial safety laws, but no criminal-negligence charges were ever laid. The RCMP determined within days that no criminal offence was committed in connection to the Lakeland Mills explosion.

Crown counsel decided against pursuing charges, in part because the failure of authorities to obtain search warrants rendered some evidence inadmissible in court.

WorkSafeBC fined Lakeland Mills Ltd. over $700,000 in penalties.

The jury recommended the RCMP develop a policy, guidelines and training for potential criminal negligence in the workplace.

WorkSafeBC, which was the subject of nine recommendations, said in a statement that it will examine each one and provide a written response to Chief Coroner Lisa LaPointe.

Those recommendations include putting more emphasis on telling workers it's within their rights to refuse unsafe work, reviewing whether dust levels could be monitored with automatic sensors and ensuring inspection officers audit employer's health and safety committee records.

A report on the cause of the blast released last year said airborne wood dust caught fire, causing an explosion that triggered more explosions.

An inquest into the explosion at the Babine mill will be held in July.