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WorkSafeBC levies $724,163 fine for mill explosion

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by Russell Hixson last update:Oct 8, 2014

Lakeland Mills Ltd. was hit with $724,163 in fines and levies for an explosion at its Prince George, B.C. sawmill that killed two workers and injured dozens more.
WorkSafeBC levies $724,163 fine for mill explosion

An investigation by WorkSafeBC found Lakeland Mills Ltd. violated the Workers Compensation Act  and Occupational Health and Safety regulations.

"The dollar value of a penalty or claims cost levy does not and cannot reflect the loss of lives and the pain and suffering of workers and families," read a statement from WorkSafeBC.

According to WorkSafeBC procedures, employers have the right to review and appeal a penalty or a claims cost levy.

Others, including a worker, an owner, a supplier, a union or a member of a deceased worker's family may also request a review and appeal a decision

Decisions can be appealed within 90 days to the WorkSafeBC Review Division and after that within 30 days to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

Lakeland has not yet announced if it will appeal the decision.

On April 23, 2012, at about 9:30 p.m. there was a fire and explosion at the Lakeland Mills sawmill at 1385 River Road.

The northeast corner of the sawmill exploded outward.

Almost immediately after, the mill's northern bag house was engulfed in flames.

The explosion travelled east to west through the operating level of the mill.

Two workers died and many others were injured.

According to WorkSafeBC's investigation report, the explosion was preventable and that all the components for a wood dust explosion existed, including high amounts of wood dust and an ignition source.

Lakeland spent millions of dollars over the years upgrading the sawmill's facilities, but waste conveyors for these new systems were not installed.

Little work had been done on the sawmill dust collection system and the problems that this wood waste was causing, the report states.

After the explosion at the Babine Forest Products sawmill on January 20, 2012, Lakeland reviewed its wood waste program.

Extra clean-up workers were hired, but these efforts were deemed ineffective in preventing the build-up of the wood dust.

The mill was looking at options for a waste vacuum system at the time of the incident.

Friction in a gear reducer cooling fan ignited the blaze, the report found.

The report explains that the spring sleeve that held the fan on the gear reducer's worm gear-shaft failed.

Millwrights had often found issues with the fans, but they were never addressed.

The fine is the second largest that WorkSafeBC has ever issued.

The first was a $1 million fine imposed on Babine Forest Products after a similar deadly blast at its Burns Lake sawmill that killed two and injured a number of other workers.

While these two companies have been hit with fines, they are not being prosecuted.

Both mill explosion cases were referred to the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) for charge assessment.

In both instances, the CJB stated evidence was gathered by WorkSafeBC investigators without warrants and interviewees were not informed about the Charter of Rights.

This meant that the cases could not be successfully prosecuted.

Despite this, WorkSafeBC's investigations found that both explosions were due to poor wood dust management and each was preventable.

The prosecution failure prompted a report on how WorkSafeBC conducts investigations.

The result was 43 recommendations, including significant changes in managing investigations and sharpening tools used to enforce regulations.

Shortly after the release of the report last month, WorkSafeBC board chair George Morfitt announced that he accepted the report and will immediately start implementing the recommendations.

last update:Oct 8, 2014

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