Skip to main content

The Lakeland Sawmill is shown in Prince George, B.C. April 24, 2012. A public inquest was called after an explosion ripped through the mill three years ago, leaving two men dead and more than 20 injured.Andrew Johnson/The Canadian Press

A coroner's inquest into a fatal 2012 B.C. sawmill explosion has resumed with the province's workers' compensation board explaining why it chose to ignore the findings of the mill's internal investigation for its report.

WorkSafeBC opted not to use a parallel investigation conducted by Lakeland Mills because the agency had already decided to take the company to court, said the agency's investigations director Jeff Dolan.

"For us to sit down with an employer who could be in jeopardy and ask them to share that information with us would have been inappropriate," said Mr. Dolan, speaking at a courthouse in Prince George, B.C.

The public inquest was called after an explosion ripped through the Prince George mill in April three years ago, leaving two men dead and more than 20 injured.

Mill workers Glen Roche and Alan Little died from extensive burns suffered in the blast.

Monday's proceedings followed a more-than-month-long hiatus after coroner's counsel John Orr learned for the first time that Lakeland Mills had conducted its own investigation into the explosion.

Mr. Orr questioned why that information had not been disclosed earlier and asked for time to look through the material.

Explaining WorkSafeBC's actions, Mr. Dolan said an employer is normally required to present findings to the agency. But WorkSafeBC's decision to pursue charges against the sawmill's owner meant it was no longer necessary to demand the results of the company's investigation, he added.

"We were no longer in a position to compel because we had made the decision to prosecute," said Mr. Dolan.

WorkSafeBC recommended four charges under provincial safety law – none for criminal-negligence – but the Crown eventually decided against pursuing charges because of the low prospects for success.

Lakeland Mills hired Seattle-based forensic engineering firm CASE Forensics to conduct its investigation.

A CASE Forensics representative is scheduled to testify Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Dolan said WorkSafeBC has since adopted a new process for investigating major incidents. Instead of waiting for all the evidence to be gathered before reaching a conclusion, Mr. Dolan said the direction of the investigation is determined as it progresses.

"The evidence will dictate where you're going," he said.

Also discussed at the inquest on Monday was WorkSafeBC's response to another mill explosion that took place three months before the blast at Lakeland Mills.

Two people died and more than 20 were injured during an explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, B.C., 200 kilometres west of Prince George.

In earlier testimony, WorkSafeBC had been criticized for failing to give sawmills a better idea of what caused the Babine blast in the weeks immediately following the incident.

Mr. Dolan called the investigations into the Babine and Lakeland explosions the largest in WorkSafeBC's history.

A coroner's inquest into the Babine explosion is scheduled to begin July 13 in Burns Lake.