British Columbia recently introduced legislation to promote workplace safety in sawmills.  Bill 35 will require more extensive involvement from members of the joint health and safety committee during workplace accident investigations, and the immediate reporting of fires or explosions that could cause serious injury to a worker.

Bill 35 is the government’s response to two tragic mill accidents, the subsequent coroners’ reports, as well as specific proposals in the 2014 WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan. In 2012, two mill explosions, one in Prince George, and one in Burns Lake, killed four men and injured dozens of other workers. Following those accidents, a coroners’ inquest was undertaken which resulted in specific recommendations relating to workplace safety and the standards required for building and refitting mills.  In addition, WorkSafeBC published its 2014 Review and Action Plan that included recommendations to make sawmills a safer place to work and to improve British Columbia’s investigation and inspection regime.

The government accepted all of the recommendations made in the WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan Report. Bill 35 proposes amendments to the Workers Compensation Act as part of the broader undertaking to improve safety at sawmills.

The proposed legislative changes include the following:

  • Employers must immediately report to WorkSafeBC all fires or explosions that have the potential to cause serious injury to a worker.
  • There must be meaningful participation by workers and employer representatives in employer accident investigations and mandates a specific role for workplace health and safety committees to provide advice to the employer on proposed equipment or machinery changes that may affect worker health or safety.
  • Employer investigation reports must be provided to the workplace health and safety committee or worker health and safety representative, or be posted at the work site.
  • WorkSafeBC will be involved in proactively assisting workplace health and safety committees in resolving disagreements regarding health and safety matters.

Bill 35 also builds on legislative changes made under Bill 9 earlier this year, which increased WorkSafeBC’s ability to promote and enforce occupational health and safety regulations and addresses administrative issues relating to WorkSafeBC’s annual report and service plan and to the WorkSafeBC Superannuation Plan.