Province accepts all recommendations in WorkSafeBC review, USW argues it’s still not enough

On July 15, the British Columbia government announced it will be acting on all recommendations in the WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan, released the same day.

The 192-page report, prepared by WorkSafeBC administrator Gordon Macatee as part of his six-point mandate announced by the minister in April, comes in the wake of horrific sawmill explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George where WorkSafeBC was accused by health and safety investigators of botching the following investigations. The first explosion injured 20 workers and killed two, while the latter injured 22 workers and claimed the lives of two others.

The recommendations, accepted by Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond, aim to strengthen various aspects of WorkSafeBC’s operations, with particular focus on occupational health and safety inspection and investigation.

“Action will be taken immediately on key recommendations around worker safety. There are other recommendations that will take some time to fully implement because they require consultations, legislation, or policy changes at WorkSafeBC,” Bond said.

“The board of WorkSafeBC has assured me they have accepted the action plan and will immediately begin implementing all recommendations pertaining to them. As well, government will implement those items requiring action on its part. We will have regular, public reporting on progress.”

Bond said that key recommendations for immediate action include:

• Moving forward with the development of occupational health and safety policies to specify reasonable steps for employers, worker, and supervisors to address combustible dust hazards.

• Signing the memorandums of understanding with police services and the memorandum of understanding with the Criminal Justice Branch.

• Implementing the sustained compliance plan for sawmills as outlined in the report.

• Developing a plan for ongoing inspection of other wood product manufacturers and pellet mills by WorkSafeBC prevention officers, with appropriate enforcement efforts to bring this sector into sustained compliance.

But the report does not go far enough to fix the agency’s deeply engrained problems, according to the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest private sector union in both Canada and North America representing 1.2 million active and retired workers.

"It is abundantly clear the agency's problems run deep and are engrained in a culture of secrecy,” USW western Canada director Stephen Hunt said. For the USW, the July 15 report fails to restore confidence in WorkSafeBC’s ability to keep workers safe.

The union said the families who lost loved ones in the sawmill explosions deserve better than what essentially “tinkers around the edges of a very flawed agency.”

The union is now calling for a public inquiry.

"The report fails to provide any explanation to the debacle that was WorkSafeBC's investigation. A public inquiry is required to provide answers to family members, workers and the public. Only then can WorkSafeBC hope to rebuild its standing," Hunt said.

Mallory Hendry is the assistant editor of Canadian Occupational Safety.