May 7, 2012 - No. 65
Tragedies in BC Forestry Industry
Fifth Sawmill Worker Killed on the Job
• Fifth Sawmill Worker Killed on the Job This
• Hold Governments to Account for Refusing to
Provide Workers' Health and Safety with a Guarantee - Charles
Comox Rally Opposes
• Our Coast, Our Decision! No Pipeline, No
Tragedies in BC Forestry Industry
Fifth Sawmill Worker Killed on the Job This Year
George Park Jr killed May 3 at Plateau Sawmill
With utmost contempt for the BC government
which refuses to hold the monopolies in forestry to account for their
endangerment of the lives and limbs of the workers they employ, TML is deeply sorry to inform its
readers of the death of a fifth sawmill worker killed on the job in BC
At about 3:30 am Thursday May 3, subcontractor
George Park Jr. was killed while working near conveyor belts at the
Canfor-owned Plateau Sawmill in Vanderhoof, BC. George was employed by
the contracting firm BID Group since November 2011. The young worker
lived with his family in Kamloops.
BID CEO Brian Fehr said the deceased worker was a certified millwright
and that his father and two brothers have also worked for the company.
preliminary report from Worksafe BC indicates George Park may have been
where a gate separating conveyor belts was not properly secured.
USW Local 1-424 is the certified trade union in the
mill, but its certification does not cover subcontracted workers. The
tragic accident took place only hours before the funeral began of a
Local 1-424 member killed at the April 23 Lakeland mill explosion.
Shannon Euverman, third Vice-president of Local 1-424
told TML that the language governing what work can or cannot
be subcontracted out is different for different sections of the local.
Generally, the language rotates around the idea that work done by
regular employees cannot be subcontracted.
She said mills still have a compliment of trades workers, electricians,
millwrights, mechanics and others, but a major
problem facing the sawmilling industry is a shortage of skilled
tradespeople. "Generally they want to go where the money is and that's
in the oil and gas fields and
mines," she said.
Flowers and wreaths
left at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in recent days.
(USW Local 1-424)
While an apprenticeship program for raising the
skills of millworkers exists, the union has been
negotiating with the government to raise the number, Euverman said.
Regarding the death of George Park, Euverman expressed
her condolences to the family. She said news of this latest tragedy has
had a particularly traumatic effect on everyone given the loss of four
workers in just three months due to the explosions in Burns Lake and
Prince George. She said the days when workers
worked 8 hour shifts in a five day work week, with weekends devoted to
cleaning mills and maintaining machinery are long gone. Other
millworkers and trade union officials have said this change in
scheduling is a factor creating conditions for explosions and other
Concern is mounting over the carnage in BC mills. TML
spoke with a mill inspector highly trained at evaluating the safety of
machinery and other engineering features in major industrial sites
across BC. He is now working in a sawmill in the Interior. He reports
witnessing five small fires in the mill over
the past two weeks and the safety response has been to have a worker
walk around carrying a hose as a regular duty.
"In my opinion," he said, "the mills are running on a
relatively small profit margin because of the [Canada/U.S.] softwood
agreement and other factors. They are all 'time-bombs' because they're
full of sawdust, and no regular time is made for clean up and proper
maintenance." He said on condition of anonymity
that he thinks the owners simply do not want to invest in dust removal
equipment, which is easily available and easy to assemble. This is
because "It's expensive!" he
the BC government for refusing to hold the mill owners to account, for
refusing to train enough skilled tradespeople, for permitting
contracting out without union control and for making health and safety
the responsibility of individual workers, not the owners.
This year's Day of
Mourning for Injured Workers in Prince George, BC
(left) took on special significance because of the two deaths at the
Mills sawmill explosion just days before. Several workers remain in
intensive care battling for their lives. In Burns Lake (right), more
than 300 people gathered
part in the first Day of Mourning event amid growing concern and anger
that the January 20 mill explosion that claimed two lives at the Babine
Forest Products sawmill is part of a pattern and not a one-time event. (BC Federationist, Worksafe BC)
Hold Governments to Account for Refusing to Provide
Workers' Health and Safety with a Guarantee
Who must be held to
account for the Babine Lake and Lakeland
sawmill explosions, deaths, injuries, loss of livelihoods and damage to
the local economies?
The two massive explosions and fires first at Babine
sawmill in Burns Lake on January 20 and then Lakeland Mills sawmill in
Prince George on April 23 killed four workers and injured 38, seven of
whom remain in hospital. The explosions destroyed the livelihoods of
over 450 mill workers and
an uncounted number of jobs for loggers, truck drivers and mill
subcontractors, all of which is a huge blow to the local economies.
There is no indication the mills will be rebuilt.
Significant questions emerge:
What caused the explosions?
Were the causes known beforehand?
Were preventative measures deliberately not taken?
Who must be held to account for the deaths, injuries,
loss of livelihoods and blow to the local economies?
The immediate discourse of company officials, the
Compensation Board (now Worksafe BC), Minister of Labour and others in
the industry was that these explosions were unique, unknown before in
the history of BC sawmilling.
The first tragic explosion in Burns Lake was attributed
"perfect storm" of many factors unlikely to recur. The second explosion
just three months later in Prince George raised more seriously the
matter of dust accumulation in the mills. The Minister of Labour,
Margaret MacDairmid, ordered on April 25 that
all mill owners in the province bring dust levels "up to current
standards." However, a review of Worksafe BC Regulations shows that
"current standards" have nothing specific to say about the danger of
sawdust accumulation in sawmills. Section 9.9.2 (b) has a general
reference to a "hazard assessment" having to
take "combustible dust" into account.
The Globe and Mail
reports that Worksafe BC on April 27, 2010 issued
a series of warnings about the danger of dust explosions. The warnings
include specific description about how a primary explosion can set off
an even more deadly explosion by shaking loose more sawdust. The Globe
writes, "The document
offers advice on dust-collection devices, as well as a reminder of BC
Fire Code regulations on their use. It urges operators to assess their
facilities, provide written dust- control programs for staff and train
staff. 'The dust-control program should be communicated to all workers
and include training on the program
elements, including hazard awareness, specific safe work procedures,
hazcom documentation and emergency preparedness.'"
The talk from officialdom about the Burns Lake and
explosions being unique or a "perfect storm" is further debunked in
another recent article. Reporter Gordon Hoekstra documents the
following explosions, which ought to have put every mill owner on
notice that their mills were potential explosion
1) an explosion in January 2011 at Tolko's Soda Cree
Williams lake caused by dust creating a fire in the walls difficult to
2) an explosion in April 2011 at Pinnacle Pellet in
Armstrong causing a fire;
3) an explosion in the company's Williams Lake plant in
August 2009 caused by dust mixed with air and set off with a spark;
4) an explosion at Pacific Bioenergy's pellet plant in
in December 2010 where dust ignited by a spark was cited as cause;
5) another explosion at that plant in March 2008.
In addition to these five foretelling explosions, a
took place at the Burns Lake Babine Forest Products mill in February
2011, eleven months before the entire mill was destroyed in the
horrific explosion. The article cites a BC Safety Authority report
saying unusually dry sawdust was the cause
of that 2011 incident. Another case cited was "an explosion linked to
dust at Canfor's Chetwynd sawmill in 2005 where work on a shutdown
burner created a cloud of dust that was ignited by cutting torches. At
least one worker was injured and taken to hospital."
This information recently revealed to the public means
responsible for safety oversight in the mills did nothing about these
warnings. Primarily responsible are the mill owners and Worksafe BC.
They have the fiduciary responsibility to ensure workers attend a safe
work site. They failed to do so and
did not do so having ample warning that the accumulation of sawmill
dust is explosive. In short, they allowed workers to enter work sites
knowing the danger of explosions was real.
The mill owners themselves blurt out their pragmatic
line priorities. When asked directly about what they did to prevent an
explosion, Greg Stewart the president of Sinclair Forest Group, owner
Lakeland, is quoted saying, "We did ramp up our housekeeping crew....
were in the process of investigating
a vacuum system to install in the mill.... You're not going to install
a system like a vacuum system overnight."
The question workers have a right to ask is "why not?"
evidence points at the failure to do so cost two workers their lives,
injured 13 others, some severely, and destroyed the Prince George mill.
There were plenty of precedent explosions and a warning by Worksafe BC
in 2010. Yet Stewart expresses a reluctance to "install a ... vacuum
overnight" even though there was no "overnight" emergency -- it was
developing for months. In short, the owners have a clearly stated
invest in possibly expensive but essential dust removal systems to
protect the workers' lives, limbs and worksites despite knowing the
dangers which exist. Four major sawmills in
BC have burned to the ground in less than four years;
not one has been rebuilt. This not only speaks to an even larger
facing the wood industry in BC but to definite negligence on the part
The criminal law says if an employer sends workers to a
where there is clear and apparent danger to their lives, and a life is
lost, it is a criminal offensive punishable by time in jail. Would the
workers at Burns Lake and Prince George not be justified to demand
these wealthy mill owners be
There is another factor and player responsible, namely,
party companies hired by mill owners to look after "risk assessment"
and safety as well as relations with Worksafe BC. Part of the
neoliberal corporate agenda is to privatize government agencies set up
to monitor the owners of capital, whether to
protect the public from food poisoning or protect work sites from
hazardous conditions. In northern BC, many owners of heavy industry
have outsourced this responsibility to a company called International
Quest Engineering (IQE) in Prince George. The company's services
include "Health, Safety and Environment
IQE boasts they, "Always strive to lead by example and
pro-active safety-first culture." According to their website, they
"Plan our jobs to eliminate any risk to manpower, equipment and the
environment and maintain the highest possible standard of accident
prevention measures at all times." Among
their clients, they list several major wood and mining monopolies
including Hampton (Babine Forest Products) in Burns Lake, and Lakeland
in Prince George.
Some important questions need to be asked. Did IQE have
to oversee safety in these two mills? If yes, were they aware of the
April 27, 2010 warning of Worksafe BC? Were they aware of the five
preceding explosions in BC sawmills? Did they instruct their clients to
take urgent engineering precautions
in the plants to prevent the catastrophic explosions that occurred? If
they monitored safety conditions, did they notify Worksafe BC of the
Neil McManus, a consulting industrial hygienist at
Occupational Health & Safety makes the following important point
about the role of an engineering company like IQE: "Engineering and
safety are intimately related. Safety -- being the condition such that
nobody will suffer accident injury or death
at work -- is an outcome from good engineering. Engineering responds to
safety issues through redesign and installation of structures to
prevent harm to people."
McManus, well respected in his field and author of a
book about the
use of portable dust filters, says there is no doubt in his mind that
wood dust is the cause of the two major mill explosions. In his
interview, he cited Brazil as a country where safety measures include
companies having to take on one or more
of "a safety technician, a safety engineer, a nurse and/or an
occupational health physician" should risk assessment merit it. There
is no such requirement in BC.
Another spokesperson familiar with the role of Worksafe
BC as an
agency totally at the service of the monopolies told TML, "Blaming the
explosions on pine beetle logs is like asking how explosive is the gun
powder?" Darrell Powell, injured shipyard worker and workers' safety
advocate told TML that dust
flash fires and explosions are well-known but the wood industry
monopolies don't want to finance sufficient air cleaning apparatus to
ensure the mills don't explode.
Sucha Deepak, retired business agent for USW Local 1-424
George told TML the change in
name of Workers' Compensation Board to
Worksafe was deliberate to put the onus for safety onto the workers.
"The companies are responsible for safety. They must be held to account
for these two major tragedies,
the deaths and injuries. 'Worksafe' should properly be renamed
'Safework' to put the onus where it belongs, on the corporate owners,"
Sam Tom, union plant chairman of the Babine Forest
Products mill in Burns Lake told TML
another factor leading to the explosion was the undermining of workers'
health and safety conditions caused by the shift changes dictated by
the mill owners some years back. The companies went from an
eight-hour workday five days a week to a 10-hour day seven days a week
schedule. "The dust really accumulated after that because before that,
weekends were used for clean up and serious mill maintenance. Now that
doesn't happen, workers are exhausted and dangers keep mounting," he
A further factor Sam Tom cited was the change of the
width of the
steel saw blades. "By making them with finer steel they get more lumber
from the logs. But those thin blades also make finer dust, just like
He told TML that workers like himself now have
mortgage payments without employment. He said some workers found jobs
in the Houston mill, but it is a one-and-a-half hour commute each way.
Others went to Alberta, but some have since come back because of the
bad working conditions
there. Only half of the workers have picked up new jobs. The community
is traumatized, and the government has done nothing for the families,
not even expedite their EI claims which they promised, Tom concluded.
The BC government is fully responsible for its safety
agency Worksafe BC and it is fully responsible for what the mill owners
do in BC. It is altogether wrong to suggest it shares responsibility
with the mill owners because the former is a public authority
responsible to the
people of British Columbia and the latter are private
interests responsible to their shareholders. The private interests will
act to take whatever
shortcuts they can get away with, which is precisely why the government
must uphold public right not monopoly right. Worksafe BC issued a
general warning in April 2010, but never imposed any specific
regulations or orders on the owners. Why not?
If Worksafe BC were serious about making sure the workplaces are safe,
is not hard to do what is needed. Despite this, to date no "shutdown"
orders have been issued which must include full pay for all workers
during the shutdown.
The government brags about its "job creation"
initiatives but has
done nothing to ensure sawmill jobs are safe. Premier Christy Clark
flying off to Burns Lake and then Prince George to assure the
communities that the "hearts and prayers" of British Columbians are
with them does not make up for her government's irresponsibility for
not overseeing safety in BC sawmills.
Government workplace safety oversight in the interest of the public
good is a key function of government. Without it, under the guise that
corporations can oversee their own safety requirements, only the
private interests of the mill owners have political
clout. That is exactly the situation in Worksafe BC. It never conducts
unannounced work site inspections, never keeps the private interests in
check, but harasses injured workers on compensation into a living hell.
Worksafe's main concern is ensuring massive "rebates" to companies for
keeping their compensation
payments low. Every dictate of the monopolies comes before the safety
requirements of workers.
The mill owners must be held responsible by the BC
government for the tragedies that
occurred on January 20 and April 23 and the government's gross
indifference and irresponsibility must be denounced. Workers need their
collective organization and social consciousness to get the mills shut
down with full pay until they are safe,
the damage repaired and their livelihoods and local economies are
No Production in
Dust-Laden Sawmills that May Explode!
Full Compensation to Workers as Sawmills Are Made Safe!
No to Work on Unsafe Worksites!
Full Compensation for All Injured Workers, Bereaved Families
and All Those Who Have Lost Their Livelihoods!
Day of Mourning, Burns
Lake, April 28, 2012 (Worksafe BC)
1. "Two years before deadly
went out about sawdust danger," by Sunny Dhillon, Justin Hunter and Ian
Baily, Globe and Mail, April 27, 2012.
2. "Wood dust linked to at least five
explosions in B.C. mills" by
Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun, April 28, 2012.
3. "Two years before deadly explosions,
warnings went out about sawdust
danger," by Sunny Dhillon, Justin Hunter and Ian Baily, Globe and
Mail, April 27, 2012.
6. "B.C. sawmill tragedy: How does dust
explode?" Globe and Mail,
Comox Rally Opposes Enbridge Pipeline
Our Coast, Our Decision! No Pipeline, No Tankers!
On March 31, outside the hall where the National Energy
Board Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project
hearings were taking place, over 2,200 people from all over Vancouver
Island and the Sunshine Coast gathered to express their determination
to stop the Enbridge pipeline and to stop
oil tanker traffic in BC coastal waters.
The rally began with a
greeting from Andy Everson of the
K'omoks First Nation on whose traditional territory the rally was held.
He expressed his support for the stand of the First Nations in Northern
BC against the pipeline and the determination of everyone to protect
the life of the ocean waters of the coast.
He brought with him stickers of the image on the drum he had made for
the rally entitled "NoEnbridge."
The day before the rally Everson posted the following on
Facebook: "I don't really have a strong activist mindset, but I know
when something is really really wrong. I see hereditary chiefs on the
news standing together against this pipeline. I respect them and honour
them by doing my little part to support our
traditional leaders. I just want to let them know that the
Kwakwa_ka_'wakw here in the south stand together with them shoulder to
shoulder. That river that flows through their village connects with the
inlet in front of the next and that inlet's waters run right along the
coast to our territory, as well. We're in this
Following the welcome
greeting from Andy Everson of the
K'omoks First Nation, dancers and drummers performed. Ta'Kaiya Blaney,
an 11-year-old girl from the Sliammon First Nation whose territory is
near Powell River just across the Strait of Georgia from Comox, sang
her song "Shallow Waters" and spoke
of her determination to stop the pipeline. Many people from the
Sliammon First Nation attended the rally.
Several speakers addressed
the rally touching on
different aspects of the broad opposition of the people of British
Columbia to the Northern Gateway Project.
John Snyder, a local
who lived for 42 years in Alaska and was there at the time of the Exxon
Valdez spill which devastated the waters, fish, other
wildlife and the local communities said the experience of the people of
Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico should be appreciated when Enbridge talks
about mitigation of damages should there be a spill. Instead of
mitigation, he urged prevention and prevention means no pipeline and no
Arthur Caldicott, an
environmental researcher, Celine Trojand, a spokesperson for the NO
TANKERS campaign of the Dogwood Initiative and Delores Broten, Editor
of the Watershed Sentinel all spoke about the irreversible
consequences of an inevitable spill from quarter mile long tankers
navigating the narrow and often
stormy waters of Douglas Channel from Kitimat to the open ocean. The BC
ferry Queen of the North hit
Gil Island at the entrance to Douglas
channel in March of 2006 and is still submerged and leaking oil into
David Lane, Environment
Director for the United Fishermen
and Allied Workers Union/Canadian
Autoworkers Union spoke of the serious consequences for fishers and
fish plant workers from an inevitable oil spill in northern waters. The
rally also received messages of support from Maude Barlow, National
Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Elizabeth May, Green Party
leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf
Islands at the south end of Vancouver Island. Two NDP members of the
provincial legislature Rob Fleming and Claire Trevena spoke briefly in
support of the No Pipeline, No Tankers campaign.
Organizers of the rally had notified every MP and MLA
from British Columbia and invited all to express their support. No one
from the provincial Liberal, federal Liberal or Conservative parties
Throughout the rally supportive chants of NO, NO, NO!
rang out to support calls to stop the pipeline. Several of
the people who made 10 minute presentations to the review panel came
outside to attend the rally, which concluded with songs from the
recently formed "Anti-Pipeline choir." Several hundred
people then moved into a local school where discussion continued for
another two hours.
Throughout the rally and following discussion at
Robb Rd. school two themes emerged: First, the proposed Enbridge
pipeline and oil tankers shipping oil to Asia through Northern BC
waters must be stopped and the education
and mobilization of the people stepped up. Second, we as Canadians need
to take control of the decisions regarding extraction and development
of our resources to protect the people, land and waters.
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