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The Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, April 25, 2012, after a fire and explosion killed two workers. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
The Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, April 25, 2012, after a fire and explosion killed two workers. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. sawmill owners fined more than $700,000 after deadly explosion Add to ...

Owners of a sawmill that exploded in Prince George, B.C. two years ago, killing two workers, have been fined more than $700,000 by the province’s workplace safety agency.

WorkSafeBC announced Tuesday that Lakeland Mills Ltd., has been found to be in violation of the province’s Workers Compensation Act and occupational health and safety regulations as a result of the explosion April 21, 2012. Twenty-two others were injured.

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“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,” WorkSafeBC noted in a release posted on its website Tuesday.

The fine, amounting to $724,163, represent the harshest penalty WorkSafeBC can levy against the mill.

Lakeland Mills said it only received the inspection report and the order this morning, and was not yet ready to comment.

“It will take some time to review the information,” said president Greg Stewart. “Only then will we be in a position to respond to WorksafeBC’s allegations.”

The Criminal Justice Branch has earlier announced it would not approve charges against Lakeland Mills or against Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, where another two workers were killed in a second 2012 mill explosion. The branch announced that although WorkSafeBC had recommended charges against both facilities, the investigations into them were so badly botched that the branch concluded there would be no substantial likelihood of conviction.

Lucy Campbell, whose brother Carl Charlie was killed in the Burns Lake explosion, said the penalty will “pad the pockets” of WorkSafe B.C. but do little to help workers’ families.

“No amount of money will ever replace my brother,” said Ms. Campbell.

In the case of Lakeland Mills, the Criminal Justice Branch concluded it could prove the “underlying factual elements” to levy the four regulatory charges the safety agency recommended.

But Crown counsel argued that because search warrants were not obtained, some of the evidence would be inadmissible in court.

The agency concluded a gear reducer jammed in the basement of the mill and the heat from the friction ignited airborne sawdust. A fireball spread through the sawmill, with the pressure wave lofting more sawdust into the air, which triggered violent, secondary explosion.

Lakeland Mills has three months to file an appeal of its fine.

WorkSafeBC has fined Babine Forest Products $1-million, but the company has appealed that fine. In documents released under access to information last month, lawyers for the company argued the investigation’s findings were “inaccurate and flawed” and that the investigation itself was “unprofessional” and did not follow established forensic techniques.

Ms. Campbell said Babine should have paid the penalty and apologized, rather than whining about the fees.

“A little wee penalty, they shouldn’t even have a problem with that,” she said. “It was their mill. They had control over this mill.”

Worksafe B.C. said it could not comment while the opportunity to launch an appeal still exists.

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