WorkSafeBC levies $1M in fines and fees for Burns Lake blast that killed two.

Families of accident victims push for independent inquiry.

By: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA, B.C. (The Canadian Press) -- British Columbia's workers compensation board has imposed more than $1 million in fines and fees against the owners of the Burns Lake sawmill that exploded, killing two workers and injuring 19 others. WorkSafeBC charged Hampton Affiliates a penalty of $97,000, and a so-called claims cost levy of almost $915,000.

The levy authorizes the agency to collect compensation for death or injury, and the money will be deposited into an accident fund. However, WorkSafeBC says the total claim associated with the incident is nearly $5.2 million. "The dollar value of a penalty or levy does not and cannot reflect the loss of lives and the pain and suffering of workers and families,'' a WorksafeBC news release said.

Maureen Luggi, whose husband Robert was killed in the January 2012 explosion and fire, said the fine isn't acceptable to her and she still wants an independent inquiry into the cause of the explosion that destroyed the mill.

Carl Charlie, 42, was also killed in what some of the surviving workers described as a terrifying inferno. Employers can appeal a penalty or claims cost, WorkSafeBC said.

"Others, including workers, an owner, a supplier, a union or a member of a deceased worker's family may also request a review and appeal of an administrative penalty or a claims cost levy.''

Late last month, the B.C. government announced a safety plan would be put in place to try to prevent other sawmills from exploding. The government said the number of inspectors would be doubled to 20. The multi-point strategy is aimed at limiting the potential for combustible dust and making sure mills comply with safety regulations. Part of the program includes a dust mitigation and control audit, to ensure best practices, provincewide.

A report issued in January said the mill explosion could have been prevented. Investigators found the company knew it had an inadequate dust collection system, even after a similar explosion and fire a year earlier.

The mill had an ineffective inspection and maintenance system and inadequate supervision, the report said. No charges were laid in the blast, in part, because the Crown said investigators failed to obtain search warrants or warn witnesses of their charter rights before taking their statements.

The Crown also said a number of other charges weren't considered because of inadmissibliity of evidence. Just months after the Burns Lake mill was flattened, the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George exploded in fire, killing Alan little, 43 and 46-year-old Glen Roche.

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