WorkSafe BC policy shift may have contributed to mishandled sawmill disaster investigations, newspaper suggests; prior to 1999, when focus changed to administrative penalties, British Columbia workplace safety agency aggressively pursued court actions

LOS ANGELES , July 4, 2014 () – WorkSafeBC was more successful at bringing companies to book in the mid- to late-1990s than it has been since 1999, when the British Columbia workplace safety agency changed its policies, The Vancouver Sun reported on July 3.

During a five-year period in the late 90s, WorkSafeBC aggressively pursued legal action to bring an element of public censure to convicted companies. Since 1999, regulatory charges have been successfully laid in only three workplace safety cases.

It was in 1999 that the agency began to rely almost entirely on administrative penalties.

Today’s WorkSafeBC allegedly has little experience preparing cases for court, which The Vancouver Sun suggested could partly explain why the agency was found to have mishandled two 2012 sawmill explosion investigations. British Columbia labor lawyer Janet Patterson observed: "They haven't had a single test of their regulatory investigation since 2000."

Crown counsel rejected charges related to the Babine Forest Products Ltd. and Lakeland Mills sawmill explosions, after WorkSafeBC had found them preventable; the Crown decided it was unlikely to achieve convictions, citing flaws in the investigations that meant some evidence probably would not hold up in court.

Amid the cacophony of criticism that ensued, WorkSafeBC stressed it had achieved 24 convictions out of 31 charges it had forwarded between 1996 and 2010, using the same investigation process as had been used for the 2012 sawmill explosions.

However, citing WorkSafeBC documentation obtained through a freedom of information request, The Vancouver Sun noted that 21 of those convictions were achieved from 28 charges laid between 1996 and 1999, and that the vast majority of the convictions resulted from guilty pleas. WorkSafeBC had a 50% conviction rate for the 10 cases heard in court. All three of the post-1999 convictions resulted from guilty pleas.

The primary source of this article is The Vancouver Sun, source via The Prince George Citizen, Vancouver, British Columbia, July 3, 2014. To view the original article, click here.

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