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British Columbia Worker safety plan on track after deadly sawmill explosions in B.C.: adviser

Smoke rises as police tape surrounds Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, B.C. Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sawmill operators in B.C. have committed to a safety plan since two separate explosions that killed four workers and injured 40 others in 2012, says a special adviser appointed by the government.

Gord Macatee took on the task last July to review safety operations at the province's sawmills.

His mission also involved overhauling investigation and inspection methods at WorkSafeBC after flawed techniques were cited by the Crown for its decision not to lay criminal charges in both cases.

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The threat of combustible sawdust at mills was highlighted as a safety issue that required constant vigilance.

"I see evidence of a serious commitment to managing this risk on an ongoing basis," Macatee said Wednesday. "All of that leads me to say, hopefully, it's much safer that it's ever been in the past and it will stay that way."

He said sawmills have committed to a daily inspection routine reporting weekly to WorkSafeBC, which would also conduct regular on-site inspections.

"It's an example of where the industry has really taken responsibility for getting on top of this risk and ensuring that not only are they compliant on a day the inspector shows up, but that they are compliant every day," Macatee said.

Macatee's report made 43 recommendations, which the government said it would implement.

He said 23 of the recommendations are already in place, eight are on track for completion and legislation introduced this month covers the 12 that remain.

The Workers Compensation Amendment Act proposes immediate and stiff penalties for safety violations and comes with powers to shut down operations.

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"We've certainly seen major progress made by WorkSafeBC, and Mr. Macatee continues to oversee the progress that's being made," said Labour Minister Shirley Bond, who appointed the special adviser.

"There's still some work to be done, and, obviously one of the most important pieces is the piece of legislation in front of the house."

Bond called for changes at WorkSafeBC last spring to restore public confidence in the agency's investigations when no charges were laid over the explosions just months apart in 2012 at Burns Lake and Prince George.

Macatee recommended WorkSafeBC adopt a new investigation model based on a dual system that preserves the ability to conduct investigations for both cause and prosecutions at the scene of accidents or incidents.

He said the prosecution team will be called in by a WorkSafeBC gatekeeper who will ensure evidence is protected and admissible to the courts.

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