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Inquest into sawmill explosion again underway after review of internal investigation

When investigating workplace accidents in British Columbia, WorkSafeBC normally requests the findings of the employer's internal investigation if one was conducted. However, after a fatal explosion at a B.C. sawmill in 2012, the agency decided not to follow that procedure.

According to WorkSafeBC's investigations director, the agency had already made the decision to take Lakeland Mills to court, so it would have been inappropriate to consider the employer's own investigation.

The decision not to use the internal investigation recently led to a hiatus in a public inquest into the fatal explosion, as coroner's counsel heard for the first time that the employer had also investigated the accident. Counsel requested time to examine the findings, and WorkSafeBC explained its reasoning for not demanding more information from the employer.

Although WorkSafeBC recommended charges against Lakeland Mills, the Crown decided not to pursue the charges because prosecution was not likely to be successful.

Since the Lakeland Mills incident, WorkSafeBC has changed its procedures for investigating major workplace accidents. Rather than coming to a conclusion about an accident only after all of the evidence is gathered, the agency's new policy is to let the evidence dictate the direction of the investigation.

The investigations into the Lakeland Mills explosion and another at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake were two of the largest investigations in WorkSafeBC's history.

If you have questions about investigating workplace accidents in B.C., then Overholt Law's workplace investigations overview may prove helpful. Our firm advises on matters of Occupational Health and Safety, workers' compensation and workplace accidents.

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