02/11/2015 04:44 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Legislation would bar B.C. employers for repeating unsafe practices

VICTORIA - The B.C. government has introduced legislation that would bar employers from continuing to operate in an industry if orders to stop unsafe practices are ignored.

Labour Minister Shirley Bond said before introducing the legislation Wednesday that the legislation will also permit on-the-spot penalties for employers who violate orders.

The legislation amends the Workers Compensation Act and is based on recommendations in a report into two separate sawmill explosions that killed four workers in 2012.

Bond said provisions do not include naming non-compliant employers because of privacy issues, but that information would become public anyway through any court process.

"There is policy work underway but there are a number of mechanisms in the bill that will deal with those employers that are blatantly and continuously out of compliance."

WorkSafeBC administrator Gord Macatee said the bill provides exactly what he intended in the report he forwarded to the government last July.

He said staff have received training involving searches and seizures, warrants and forensic interviewing and that a second team will take over when there's the potential for liability involving workplace incidents.

Bond called the legislation transformative, saying it would give judges the ability to rule that an employer will not continue operating in a particular sector after WorkSafeBC seeks an injunction.

"I want families to know today that it is intended to improve worker safety so that we don't have others face the horrific circumstances that they have faced," she said.

Accumulation of combustible dust at the mills is believed to be a major contributing factor in both mill explosions.

Macatee said 96 mills that did not have compliance issues have voluntarily taken part in a daily inspection program, with weekly reporting to WorkSafe.

"It really underlines the seriousness with which the industry has taken the combustible dust issue," he said.

The Crown declined to approve charges against Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake and Lakeland Mills in Prince George, in part over concerns that evidence collected by WorkSafeBC wouldn't be admissible in court.

Inquests into both blasts are scheduled — starting next month in the Lakeland Mills case and in July for the Babine explosion.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported non-compliant employers could be prosecuted