BY RICHARD GILBERT - Construction unions in B.C. are calling on the provincial government to support proposed legislation that would include the criminal prosecution of corporate executives responsible for the injury or death of workers.
“Workers are dying every year from negligence and yet we still don’t see criminal prosecution of those responsible,” said B.C. Insulators Union Local 118 Business Manager Lee Loftus.
“The recent failure to lay criminal charges after the deaths of two workers at the Babine Forest Products explosion in Burns Lake is only the latest in a long string of failures that have to stop.”
New Democratic Party Labour critic Harry Bains introduced a motion in the legislature on March 24 .
It supports the prosecution of corporate executives and directors responsible for workers’ health and safety in cases of negligence causing workplace death or serious injury.
Two workers were killed and 20 others injured in a fire and explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill near Burns Lake, B.C. in January 2012.
WorkSafeBC’s incident investigation report released in November 2012 said a large fireball burst through the roof at the northeast side of the mill, while the explosion travelled through the operations and basement levels.
Fire spread throughout the premises, completely destroying the mill.
The report concluded that a high concentration of wood dust in the air fuelled the massive explosions and resulting fires.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said in February that WorkSafeBC’s investigation was flawed because evidence was not gathered in a way that could be used in a criminal case.
As a result, no criminal or regulatory charges will be laid in connection to the deaths.
“We have seen too many people die in the workplace because of the negligence of those who have a duty under the law to protect their health and safety,” said Bains in the legislature.
“Then they fail and no consequences. As a result, there’s no deterrence. As a result, people continue to die.”
Bains provided a long list of other preventable incidents in which workers were killed, but no one was held accountable.
Most importantly, Bains said there are dozens of workers, who have been exposed to asbestos while working for certain asbestos and drywall removing contractors.
They didn’t have adequate knowledge of the risk or have proper protection.
For example, Arthur Moore of AM Environmental was sentenced by Justice Richard Goepel to 60 days in jail for contempt of court, after ignoring orders from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Supreme Court to stop exposing vulnerable workers to asbestos.
Moore hired unprotected workers, some as young as 14 years old, to remove asbestos during home demolitions, in direct violation of a B.C. Supreme Court restraining order.
In addition, he employed recovering alcoholics and addicts, who were living in recovery houses and exposed them to cancer causing agents.
Greyell issued a restraining order against Moore and AM Environmental from doing business in the asbestos abatement business and the demolition or drywall removal business.
He was also prohibited from providing hazardous material inspections and reports, environmental assessments, hazardous materials surveys and testing, asbestos abatement services or testing.
Moore was personally served with the injunction, but continued to operate in the demolition business under various trade names.
At the time, Loftus called on the court to lay criminal charges against Moore.
In 2012, WorkSafeBC hit Skylite Building Maintenance Ltd. with two fines worth $105,000 each for exposing workers to asbestos in Vancouver and Richmond and chronic repeated violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and Workers Compensation Act.
In both cases, the presence of these unidentified hazardous materials may have resulted in workers involved in the demolition being exposed to harmful airborne asbestos fibres.
According to Loftus, current provisions under the Criminal Code, such as the Westray Law passed in 2003, are not enforced because provincial mechanisms to investigate and prosecute are inadequate.
On May 9, 1992, 26 workers were killed in an underground methane explosion at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia.
Miners accused the company of cutting back on safety, training and equipment, as well as negligent and outright criminal behavior.
The resulting Westray bill amended the Criminal Code of Canada in order to hold employers, who failed to take steps to protect the lives of their employees, criminally liable.
Asbestos related diseases claimed the lives of 488 workers between 2002 and 2011 in B.C., which represents 59 per cent of the people who died at or above the age of 55.
In 2012, 2011 and 2010 there were 68 deaths, 63 deaths and 57 deaths respectively.