WorkSafeBC investigation into Babine explosion flawed: Government report

The government of British Columbia has released a review of the investigations surrounding the Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion and fire in Burns Lake, B.C., that killed two workers and injured 20 others in 2012.
The report found that WorkSafeBC paid insufficient attention to important legal precedents that underpin the legitimate gathering of evidence for prosecution purposes, even though the Criminal Justice Branch had previously shared its concerns on collection of evidence.

Although it appears this was a difference of legal opinions, the importance of the issue must be fully acknowledged, along with the severity of its possible impacts, said the government.

The report was conducted by John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier and head of the public service.

Premier Christy Clark has accepted all of the recommendations, with a particular focus on the recommendation that Len Doust be retained as an independent advisor, both to oversee implementation of these recommendations and to provide further input as he sees fit.

In his review of the report, Doust makes clear that a decision by Crown counsel to approve or not approve charges is not the proper subject for a public inquiry.

Premier Clark and Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond met with the chair of WorkSafeBC to discuss the report and the necessary next steps, including:

• That all the recommendations must be implemented.
• WorkSafeBC immediately develop an action plan for implementation.
• WorkSafeBC fully examine why it failed to ensure the rules of evidence-gathering were observed, or request clarification from Criminal Justice Branch to safeguard its admissibility.

Dyble's recommendations fall into four categories:

• Measures to improve interaction between investigating and prosecuting agencies.
• Improvement of policies, procedures and communications within WorkSafeBC.
• Enhanced training and improved working relationships.
• Moving forward.

The United Steelworkers (USW) have expressed their disappointment in the provincial governments review of the explosion, saying that it believes it is inadequate, incomplete and provides no comfort to workers.

"Two years have gone by and there are still too many unanswered questions, no new safety regulations and little to no accountability for the employer and just as importantly the government agencies responsible for the safety of workers," said Stephen Hunt, director of the USW in western Canada.