(Canadian OH&S News) — The company that owned the sawmill that exploded and killed two workers in Prince George, B.C. in April 2012 is appealing the sanctions that WorkSafeBC issued against it in May of this year.
In a lengthy press statement released by Lakeland Mills Ltd. on Oct. 31, the company revealed that it had filed a “Request for Review” regarding the administrative penalty and claims cost levy imposed by WorkSafeBC. The penalties totalled more than $724,000.
“To accept a regulatory sanction for this tragedy would leave the wrong impression that Lakeland and its people were not diligent or were reckless,” the company’s statement read, adding that such an acceptance “would not fairly reflect what Lakeland believes is the whole truth about this tragedy. If the company had foreseen the risk of a catastrophic accident, those responsible for the operation of the mill would never have placed their people and the facility in harm’s way.
“We believe that an appeal of the WorkSafeBC sanction is consistent with our reputation,” the company added.
Crown Counsel declined to press charges against Lakeland under the Workers Compensation Act following WorkSafeBC’s investigation. But the board’s report on the incident, released on April 14, concluded that the explosion had been preventable. WorkSafeBC later used the evidence from the same investigation to justify issuing a claims cost levy of $626,663 and an administrative penalty of $97,500.
Besides the statement, Lakeland has declined to speak directly to the media about the appeal. But Trish Knight Chernecki, WorkSafeBC’s senior manager of media and government relations, told COHSN that such an appeal was not unusual in B.C.
“It’s all part of the process of when sanctions are imposed,” Chernecki said. “Everybody has a right to appeal.” She elaborated that any employer in the province could order a review of any decision regarding either health and safety enforcement or claim division assessment if they so desired.
“It goes to the review division within WorkSafeBC, and it’s looked at separately, and new information or evidence can be put forward then,” Chernecki explained. If an employer is still unhappy with the result of the appeal, “they can go to what we call WCAT, which is the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal, which is independent of WorkSafeBC.”
Lakeland claimed in its statement that it had taken all reasonable steps to reduce all the risks that it had foreseen before the explosion occurred. After a similar sawmill explosion in Burns Lake three months earlier, Lakeland made “diligent inquiries” about sawdust hazards and “took steps” to acquire new equipment to make sawdust collection safer, the company said, pointing out that Crown Counsel had deemed the incident unforeseeable.
“The company also believes that an appeal will permit all parties to learn more to prevent unforeseen hazards from emerging without attention and from materializing without notice, so that such a thing never occurs again,” Lakeland’s statement read.
“No appeal can change what happened, nor alter the impact on the lives of our employees, families who lost loved ones, the company and our community. Lakeland has taken this action for a number of reasons, after carefully weighing its responsibility for the tragedy against its sincere belief that the responsibility is shared with all stakeholders with an interest in ensuring safe workplaces.”
The Lakeland sawmill explosion killed 46-year-old Glenn Roche and 43-year-old Alan Little, while injuring 22 others, on April 23, 2012. It was the second B.C. sawmill explosion that year, following the Babine Forest Products mill incident in Burns Lake in January.