The investigation that led to a $1-million fine for Babine Forest products after a deadly mill explosion was “unprofessional” and did not follow established forensic techniques, the company contends in its appeal of the fine.
The investigation’s findings were “inaccurate and flawed,” say appeal documents released after a freedom of information request by The Globe and Mail.
The explosion at the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake in January, 2012, killed two people and injured 20 others. WorkSafeBC announced the administrative penalty against Babine Forest in April, several months after the provincial Criminal Justice Branch said no criminal or regulatory charges would be approved against the company, in part because the way in which WorkSafeBC carried out its investigation made some evidence inadmissible.
The branch also said the company’s potential defence of due diligence reduced the chances of getting a conviction.
Babine announced its intention to appeal at the time the fine was announced, but its reasons were not released.
The appeal is now under way, with the WorkSafeBC investigation at the centre of the proceeding.
“The employer [Babine Forest Products] maintains that certain of the findings were established through an investigation process that was unprofessional and inconsistent with established forensic fire examination techniques that are well established,” lawyers for the company said in an April 16 letter to WorkSafeBC.
Specifically, the letter adds, “the finding as to the ignition source was not supported by the evidence and was inaccurate and flawed.”
WorkSafeBC’s investigation found the explosion was caused by a buildup of combustible sawdust, and concluded the mill’s owners were responsible for the “preventable” incident. The report concluded that management was aware that its wood dust collection system was inadequate, and yet continued to increase production, creating more wood dust and debris.
Babine is challenging that account, with its lawyers saying the company “exercised reasonable care in respect to foreseeable risks associated with the accumulation of wood dust and other debris, including a regular schedule of cleanup, consistent with industry practice.”
The Burns Lake explosion was one of two that put a spotlight on sawmill safety, inspection regimes and, as the aftermath played out, the structure and competence of WorkSafeBC.
The second incident took place in Prince George in April, 2012, when an explosion and fire at the Lakeland Mill killed two workers and injured 22 more.
Nearly two years later, in April of this year, the Criminal Justice Branch announced it would not approve charges against Lakeland Mills, although WorkSafeBC had recommended Lakeland be charged with four regulatory (not criminal) offences under provincial legislation.
Lakeland would likely succeed on a defence of due diligence, the branch said in April, and as a result, “there is no substantial likelihood of conviction.”
WorkSafeBC is now weighing the possibility of an administrative penalty against Lakeland. That process remains under way, a WorkSafeBC spokeswoman said on Monday.
Family members of those killed in the Burns Lake explosion have decried both the lack of criminal charges and the fine, saying it is not a sufficient consequence for the company.
The provincial NDP has called for a public inquiry into the sawmill explosions.