Small penalties against Hampton show need for public inquiry, New Democrats say

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VICTORIA – Small administrative penalties being levied against Hampton Affiliates as a result of a Burns Lake sawmill fire and explosion which killed two workers are the latest evidence showing that WorkSafe BC is fundamentally broken and needs to be the subject of a full, public and independent inquiry, say the New Democrats.

“Of the fines being issued to Hampton Affiliates today, only about 10 per cent –$97,500 – are actual penalties,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “The bulk of the so-called fine is to cover WorkSafe BC’s costs.

“Put simply, killing two workers and injuring 19 others will cost the company $97,500. That’s the value WorkSafe BC has put on human life. It’s completely unacceptable to the families, it’s unacceptable to the opposition and I think it will be unacceptable to all British Columbians.

“It’s simply unconscionable, but it’s clear that WorkSafe’s priority is cost-recovery and spin,” said Dix.

On Jan. 20, 2012, the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake blew up, killing Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi, and injuring 19 others, nine of them very seriously. After a botched investigation, Crown counsel said it would not be able to proceed with criminal charges; WorkSafe BC and the prosecutors have since essentially pointed fingers of blame at each other for the lack of justice.

Victims of the tragedy and their families have been calling for an independent public inquiry to get to the bottom of how the fire happened, why the investigation failed, but also to look into the systemic problems at WorkSafe BC.

“These administrative penalties will not do anything to keep workers safe, which is what the victims and their families are now focused on,” said New Democrat labour critic Harry Bains. “A small fine – which we would expect Hampton would fight – tells companies that workplace deaths and serious injuries are just a cost of doing business.

“Workers need a regulator with teeth, one that will fight for worker safety. What they have under the B.C. Liberals is an organization that is fundamentally broken. We need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this travesty.”

Dix said the tiny penalty is the latest example of the failure of Premier Christy Clark to live up to her commitment to get justice for workers.

“She went to Burns Lake four days before the election to say she was going to stand up for them, but then announced from her Vancouver cabinet offices that there would be no criminal charges,” said Dix. “Now we’re seeing the latest evidence of a Liberal government that has utterly failed to stand up for justice for the dead and injured workers at Babine Forest Products.”