In 2012, explosions occurred at the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake and at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George. In both cases, WorkSafeBC concluded that the explosions were caused by combustible wood dust. In total, 4 workers were killed and 42 others were injured in the two explosions.
In 2013, WorkSafeBC submitted reports to Crown Counsel recommending charges under the BC Offence Act against Babine and Lakeland. In both referrals, the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) determined that no charges would be approved due to the inadmissibility of some of the evidence gathered by WorkSafeBC and the availability of a due diligence defence to each of the companies.
In April 2014 (following the CJB decision not to approve charges against Lakeland), the BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour and the Board of Directors of WorkSafeBC agreed to appoint Gordon Macatee as Administrator with the responsibility to oversee several specified priorities. Mr. Macatee was required to render a Report by July 1, 2014 containing recommendations to achieve the Minister’s intention that WorkSafeBC’s investigations be handled correctly in the future; that sawmills be safe places to work; that best practises be employed in BC’s occupational health and safety organizational structure; and that BC establish a world class OH&S inspection and investigation regime.
On July 1, 2014, Mr. Macatee submitted his Report entitled WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan, containing 43 recommendations. Although some of Mr. Macatee’s recommendations will require legislative changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act, many will involve changes by WorkSafeBC to its organizational structure and to its OH&S practises.
Key recommendations include:
- WorkSafeBC’s existing Fatal and Serious Injuries Department should be split into two completely separate units so as to preserve the ability for WorkSafeBC to conduct investigations into the cause of workplace fatalities or serious injuries for prevention purposes, as well as investigations for potential prosecution by Crown Counsel;
- WorkSafeBC should retain responsibility for both workers’ compensation and OH&S regimes in BC, and the ability to develop and approve OH&S regulations;
- Expanding OH&S enforcement tools available to WorkSafeBC, including the adoption of an Assurance of Compliance enforcement tool (which would involve a voluntary undertaking from a senior level within the employer’s organization for the required corrective action to be taken), the introduction of a citation (or on-the-spot ticketing) penalty system which could be imposed on employers who violate certain OH&S requirements, and an expansion of the situations where WorkSafeBC Officers could use stop work orders;
- A consultation process with industry and labour to consider whether a limited citation penalty model should be introduced for workers who fail to wear personal protective equipment. (A legislative change to the Act would ultimately be required in order to introduce any monetary penalty being imposed on an worker.);
- Amendments to the Act to provide the BC Supreme Court with broader powers to deal with flagrant, wilful and serial violators of OH&S requirements;
- Revising and streamlining WorkSafeBC’s process for imposing administrative penalties on employers;
- Consider seeking amendments to the Act to reduce the existing time limits to apply for a review of an OH&S order or penalty order, and to shorten the time frame for the order or penalty order review process to be completed;
- Introducing time limits into the Act for an employers to complete its OH&S incident investigation and submit its report to WorkSafeBC; and
- Routine scheduling of some Prevention Officers to conduct workplace inspections on weekends and evenings.
Both the Minister and WorkSafeBC’s Board of Directors have stated that they will implement all of the recommendations in Mr. Macatee’s Report which pertain respectively to each of them.