Provincial officials released a report last week that took a look at the risks associated with dust at sawmills, based on two sawmill explosions — one in Burns Lake and one in Prince George – that were linked to wood dust. But in light of the fact that both WorkSafeBC investigations into the blasts were badly botched, to the point that it was impossible to bring criminal charges, they also announced major changes to the investigatory process going forward.
The report includes more than 40 recommendations for future investigations, which the government insisted would be fully implemented. Among the recommendations include splitting the department that handles occupational death and injury investigations into two parts. There will also be increased inspections, a wider range of penalties, and the implementation of tickets and citations, with escalating penalties for repeat violations.
But the biggest change will come with the formation of specialized teams who will be specially trained to work with police and prosecutors. If agency investigators begin an investigation and decide that a prosecution is possible or desired, the original inspectors will hand it over to the team of specialists, who will then obtain the necessary warrants and warn employers of their charter rights. The team will then work directly with criminal justice branch prosecutors and a special constable would be assigned to co-ordinate with police.
These measures come in part because Crown prosecutors were unable to lay charges in connection with either of the two 2012 mill explosions, even though two workers died in each one. This is because of prosecutors’ concerns that most of the evidence collected by WorkSafeBC would be inadmissible.