WorkSafeBC’s internal and impartial review division has denied Babine Forest Products’ request to stay the $1.01 million fine imposed by WorkSafeBC in 2014.
In April of 2014, the owners of Babine Forest Products were hit with an administrative penalty of $97,500 and a claims cost levy of $914,139.62 – for a total fine of $1,011,639.62 – for the explosion at the mill in 2012. This was the largest fine issued by WorkSafeBC in provincial history, and the maximum amount allowed under WorkSafeBC rules at that time.
According to WorkSafeBC, Babine Forest Products can still appeal this decision.
“If an employer disagrees with the decision, they have the right to appeal the review decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal – an external, independent appeals tribunal,” explained Trish Knight Chernecki, a spokesperson for WorkSafeBC.
Steve Zika, Chief Executive Officer of Hampton Affiliates – company that owns Babine Forest Products, was in Asia with a B.C. delegation to diversify markets for B.C. wood products when he heard about this decision.
“We just received this decision which was expected since WorkSafeBC was the one who levied the fine,” Zika told Lakes District News. “We will be discussing options with our attorneys.”
The $1.01 million fine was issued after the Criminal Justice Branch announced it wasn’t proceeding with criminal charges against the owners of Babine Forest Products due to mistakes made by WorkSafeBC during the investigation.
Shortly after the fine was announced, Babine Forest Products issued a statement saying, “For WorkSafeBC to now propose a significant administrative penalty seems disingenuous, especially in light of this record, and the fact that WorkSafeBC must weigh the same considerations of due diligence as the Crown.”
Coroner’s inquests were held in 2015 into the Babine Forest Products explosion, as well as the explosion that occurred three months later at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George.
The inquest into the Babine explosion concluded Aug. 31, 2015, with 41 recommendations to improve safety in the industry. The deaths of Robert Luggi and Carl Charlie – both killed in the Babine explosion – were ruled accidental.
After the inquests, five groups from across the province – United Steelworkers, the B.C. Federation of Labour, the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations – renewed their calls for public inquiries, as opposed to inquests, into the explosions. They said the inquests left victims and families with “more questions than answers.”
A group of workers and family members of victims involved in the 2012 mill explosions launched a class-action lawsuit against WorkSafeBC and the province in 2016.