New Democrats stand with grieving families, injured workers calling for justice and accountability

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VICTORIA — New Democrats are standing with grieving families and injured workers in renewing calls for an independent public inquiry into the Babine sawmill explosion, saying it is essential for accountability and justice, and to protect other sawmill workers in B.C.

“The premier claims that the matter is closed – that an independent inquiry won’t change anythjng – but workers, families and the communities of Burns Lake and Prince George, and workers across this province say otherwise,” said New Democrat leader Adrian Dix.

“The denial of justice, the failure of government to meet its most fundamental obligation to protect workers, demands an independent public inquiry that will get to the truth of many unanswered questions about this catastrophe, and lead to real systemic changes that can spare others from the losses suffered by the community of Burns Lake,” said Dix.

With families and workers from both the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake and the Lakeland mill in Prince George present at the legislature Thursday, New Democrats pressed the government to act.

“There are too many unanswered questions about how the employer and the government acted before the explosion and after. Just this week we learned that two years after the explosion, dust levels at nearly half B.C. sawmills remain at unsafe levels,” said labour critic Harry Bains.

“The fact that workers’ lives remain at risk reflects the grossly inadequate response from a government that seems more concerned with damage control than workers’ safety.  This is just more proof why an independent inquiry is needed – government cannot review itself, because the conflict of interest is inherent and obvious,” added Bains.

Numerous questions remain unanswered because of the government’s botched handling of the initial investigation and the internal review conducted by the premier’s own deputy minister. They include:

  • Why did the company fail to adequately comply with orders to keep workers safe by reducing combustible dust levels in the mill?
  • Why did WorkSafeBC fail to adequately enforce these orders?
  • What, if anything, did the government do in the four months between the Babine explosion and the Lakeland mill fire in Prince George to reduce dust levels in B.C. sawmills?
  • What supports were injured workers and their families provided in the aftermath of the explosion?

On Jan. 20, 2012 a massive explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake killed two workers and seriously injured 20 others. Following a botched investigation by government, no charges were laid.  Three months later, two workers died and others were severely injured when an explosion ripped through the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George. Charges have yet to be laid.