The widow of a man killed in the Babine sawmill explosion two years ago says the fines levied against the mill’s owners on Thursday amount to a shamefully low price to pay.
Babine Forest Products is facing what WorkSafeBC describes as the largest penalty the agency has ever imposed – roughly $1-million – for the Jan. 20, 2012, explosion that killed two workers and injured 19 others. The fine includes a levy of $914,000 for compensation costs, and another $97,000 as an administrative penalty.
The agency, in a report released Thursday, said the mill’s owners broke the law – the Workers Compensation Act – by failing to implement and adopt reasonable precautions to prevent injury and death to their workers. In response, the company vowed on Thursday to appeal the decision.
But Maureen Luggi said the fines do not go far enough, and called on the government to rewrite the law to allow tougher prosecutions and penalties.
“This is a shameful decision that has been made,” Ms. Luggi said in an interview. “That’s in exchange for the lives of my husband [Robert Luggi Jr.] and my cousin Carl Charlie.”
Ms. Luggi is leading a campaign for a public inquiry into the explosion, and said the government needs to address the failure to lay any criminal charges against any employer since the federal law was changed to provide better accountability for workplace deaths.
“These regulations were developed in 1917 – and it’s 2014, the laws need to reflect today,” she said in an interview. “The B.C. government has a lot of work to do to overhaul WorkSafeBC.”
Ms. Luggi has invited Premier Christy Clark to meet with the families of the dead and injured workers to hear why they want an inquiry. So far, the Premier has not accepted the invitation.
Opposition Leader Adrian Dix called the fines, which were posted on WorkSafeBC’s website only after the NDP held a news conference on Thursday morning, a “betrayal” of the families and workers at the Babine mill. He said the government must be held accountable for its failure to ensure that justice was delivered in this case.
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.
But the criminal justice branch rejected WorkSafeBC’s recommendation for charges, saying evidence would be inadmissible in court because of the way the investigation was conducted.
Hampton Affiliates, the mill’s owners, said the botched investigation of the explosion makes the fine ripe for appeal. “For WorkSafeBC to now propose a significant administrative penalty seems disingenuous,” said a statement from the company. The statement added: “Any dispute between Babine and WorkSafe BC should not be taken out of context. Babine regrets terribly the tragic accident that occurred the night of January 20th, 2012. Our sorrow, both for our people impacted and the community of Burns Lake, will always be present.”
Shirley Bond, the Labour Minister, told reporters she understands that the families are unhappy with the failure to take Babine’s owners to court, but she said the fines are a tough penalty.
“What WorkSafe did was use every tool available to them, used the discretion that was provided in the act, to levy what is the most significant penalty – probably in the history of this province.”
She added that she is willing to review the act to determine if tougher penalties should be allowed. “I’m not close-minded about that,” she said.