British Columbia

Union calls for release of full report on Burns Lake explosion

The United Steelworkers union and the B.C. NDP are calling for the release of the B.C. Safety Authority's full report into the deadly explosion and fire that destroyed a sawmill in Burns Lake in January 2012.

BCSA vice president Phil Gothe says report could compromise criminal investigation

Smoke can be seen rising from the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. The explosion the day before killed two employees and injured 19 others. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The United Steelworkers union and the B.C. NDP are calling for the release of the B.C. Safety Authority's full report into the deadly explosion and fire that destroyed a sawmill in Burns Lake in January 2012.

When the Babine Forest Products sawmill exploded in Burns Lake in January 2012, the blast killed two workers and injured 19 others. The resulting fire gutted the mill and put another 250 workers out of work.

The B.C. Safety Authority, which is an independent agency that monitors the safety and licensing of technical systems and equipment, investigated and issued nine recommendations about wood dust management. It also called for improvements to natural gas and propane codes.

The B.C. Safety Authority said at the time it wasn't releasing its full report because Crown counsel was reviewing a referral on the mill explosion from WorkSafeBC, the agency that enforces workers' safety.

In a leaked memo dated January 2013, BCSA vice president Phil Gothe cites a teleconference with B.C. cabinet ministers Rich Coleman, Pat Bell and Shirley Bond.

The memo also asked recipients, including members of the safety authority board, to "immediately destroy any copies, excerpts or references to BCSA's investigation report to prevent inadvertent disclosure."

Union expected full report

Frank Everitt , the president of the United Steelworkers for northern B.C., says the B.C. Safety Authority told him at the time the recommendations were released that they'd be releasing the full report after consulting with industry for 90 days.

"Our members are going to work every day. They're concerned about their safety, as they should be."

The NDP candidate for Prince George–Valemount, Sherry Ogasawara, is also concerned the findings of the safety report still have not been publicly released.

"The details of this safety report are what matter. The specific details, not available in the summary, highlight the key safety concerns that could lead to problems in other mills. That was the point of the entire report," said Ogasawara in a statement released by the party.

"This sets a terrible tone. It essentially gives a pass to companies that take shortcuts on worker safety, while the many companies that are taking workplace safety issues seriously are putting in an effort to address key problems."

Bobby Deepak, the NDP candidate for Prince George-Mackenzie, also wants Shirley Bond, Rich Coleman and Pat Bell to clarify their role, if any, in keeping the full report private.

"That's a matter normally dealt with by the non-partisan staff of the legal services or crown branch."

BSCA responds to concerns

On Wednesday afternoon BCSA vice president Phil Gothe responded that  it was the safety authority's decision alone not to release the full report because it includes a lot of details that could potentially compromise or prejudice the Crown's review of the explosion.

"All decisions around the safety authority's involvement, and conduct and choice of release of information was made by the management of the British Columbia Safety Authority. At no time was any decision made around all of our involvement by anyone else than the safety authority." 

He says he understands the desire for answers about what happened at the mill, and that's why the safety authority decided to release a partial set of recommendations that could be acted on immediately.

In November 2012, WorkSafeBC sent the results of its own separate investigations into the Babine explosion and a similar deadly explosion at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George to Crown counsel to consider charges under the Workers Compensation Act.

No decision has yet been announced by the Crown.