BURNS LAKE, BC — Babine Forest Products Ltd. is contesting a $1 million penalty imposed by WorkSafeBC for the January 2012 sawmill fire and explosion that killed two employees and injured 20 others. 

BC Sawmill Contests $1M Fine for Fatal Fire & Explosion Babine Forest Products said it is appealing the fine because WorkSafeBC's investigation of the blast was "unprofessional" and "inaccurate and flawed" in failing to follow established forensic protocols, the Globe and Mail reported. The newspaper noted that the British Columbia Criminal Justice Branch previously decided not to pursue criminal or regulatory charges against Babine Forest Products, partly because WorkSafeBC's handling of the probe made some evidence inadmissible.

WorkSafeBC, akin to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, ruled that Babine Forest Products was found to be violation of the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.On April 3, the provincial safety agency issued the company an Order for Administration and Claims Cost Levy totaling $1,011,639.62. "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," WorkSafeBC said in announcing the penalties.

WorkSafeBC said the Babine Forest Products sawmill tragedy unfolded at 8:07 p.m. Jan. 20, 2012 when a large fireball burst through the roof of the northeast side of the mill; the explosion travelled east to west through the mill’s operating and basement levels and fire spread throughout the premises. Two workers died and many more were injured."

Based on its investigation, WorkSafeBC determined that the a buildup of combustible sawdust caused the explosion. The safety agency said that the explosion could have been prevented if Babine Forest Products management had addressed the inadequacies of its dust collection system at the same time it increased production and thus, wood dust.

Babine Forest Products lawyers say WorkSafeBC botched the investigation and question the ignition source findings. In addition, the The Globe and Mail quoted the company's legal team as stating that Babine Forest Products  “exercised reasonable care in respect to foreseeable risks associated with the accumulation of wood dust and other debris, including a regular schedule of cleanup, consistent with industry practice.”

Babine Forest Products is owned by Hampton Affiliates of Portland, OR, The company rebuilt the plant, whcih it said has the annual capacity to process 250 million board feet of spruce, fir and pine for studs, framing lumber and other construction products.

Less than three months after the Babine Forest Products iinicident, a suspected combustible dust explosion rocked the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, BC, killing two workers and injuring nearly two dozen of others. Soon after, WorkSafeBC launched an inspection and monitoring program of all provincial sawmills for combustible dust. That program was later expanded to include larger wood product manufacturing plants.