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WorkSafeBC investigates sawmill explosion, orders safety reviews


WorkSafeBC has initiated an investigation into the April 23 explosion at the Lakeland Mills in Prince George, B.C. WorkSafeBC sends condolences to the family of the deceased, the workers injured in the explosion and the community of Prince George.

The tragic events in Prince George have resulted in calls for the release of information gathered to date in the investigation into the Burns Lake sawmill explosion that took place earlier this year. This investigation is ongoing, however the site has been returned to the employer; equipment that must be examined has been removed from the site and transferred to independent laboratories for testing and analysis, and information and evidence gathered through witness statements is being analyzed.

“No preliminary findings into the Burns Lake investigation are available at this time and WorkSafeBC is not in a position to release information that might compromise the process,” said Roberta Ellis, vice-president of corporate services. “Investigators continue to examine fuel sources including combustible sawdust and gas as well as potential ignition sources.”

“Fatality investigations must be conducted within the law while respecting the rights of all parties to a fair and impartial investigation,” Ellis adds.

The site of the explosion in Prince George remains with the RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service. WorkSafeBC will commence its site investigation as soon as it is released by both agencies and it is safe for officers to access.

In addition, WorkSafeBC will immediately be issuing orders to all sawmill employers in B.C., directing them to conduct a full hazard identification, risk assessment, and safety review, with particular focus on combustible dust; dust accumulation; and potential ignition sources. WorkSafeBC officers will be following up on these orders to confirm that the ordered actions have been taken and sawmills are in compliance with the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in regard to combustible dust and potential safety hazards.

At present, WorkSafeBC does not have reasonable legal grounds to order sawmills closed. The agency will not hesitate to take such action should the circumstances warrant it.

“We recognize that there are similarities between the explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George — both are sawmills, dust was present in both, as in all sawmills, and both mills were working with beetle-infested wood.

“However,” Ellis says, “We cannot speculate, based on these similarities, as to the cause of these events.”

WorkSafeBC claim staff has been deployed to the area to assist the regional office in providing service to the injured workers and their families and the family of the fatally-injured worker.
www.worksafebc.com