Maureen Luggi, wife of the late Robert Luggi – one of the two fatal victims of the explosion at Babine Forest Products in 2012 -, said the inquest in Burns Lake helped bring some closure to her and her family.
The deaths of Robert Luggi and Carl Charlie were ruled accidental by the coroner’s jury. About 50 witnesses were heard throughout the three weeks of inquest.
According to Maureen, hearing what witnesses had to say helped her deal with her loss.
“I received so much information about where Robert was; several people said where they saw him last; and that’s really important because I didn’t have an opportunity to say good-bye to Robert,” she said.
“To listen to the workers give testimony about him and about Carl, even if it was three years later, it still helped me with the healing aspect of my loss and to provide some sort of closure about that night.”
Maureen said that, overall, she was satisfied with the inquest and with what she experienced during those three weeks.
“I spoke personally to WorkSafeBC, to the safety officers, and to the people who are managing the mill,” she said. “For me to reconcile with this company [Babine Forest Products] was very important; I don’t live my life in bitterness and anger; my children and I have had an enormous loss, and really, our desire is to move forward.”
The inquest into the mill deaths concluded July 31, 2015, with 41 recommendations to improve safety in the industry. Although Maureen considers the recommendations to be “meaningful,” she worries that they will not be fully implemented.
“I would like the recommendations to be enforceable,” she said. “They mean a lot to creating more change, but I’m not sure if anyone is going to take them seriously.”
Maureen said that a public inquiry, as opposed to an inquest, would have enabled those recommendations to be enforceable.
“I would rather see they [the government] enforce these recommendations so our family can rest and have peace,” she said. “There has to be accountability at WorkSafeBC and Babine Forest Products; the ball is in their court now.”
Maureen said the community provided immense support to her and her family throughout the inquest, including having lunch and coffee being sent to her every day.
“I cannot say how thankful I am to the community of Burns Lake,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by their generosity and by the support that we received throughout those three weeks.”
Maureen added that the inquest was not only important to her, but it also helped the entire community heal.
“Speaking up is important,” she said. “It’s important that we start speaking to one another and work towards building bridges and understanding.”
“This will give our community peace of mind.”
Hampton Affiliates, the majority owner of Babine Forest Products, sent out a press release after the inquest expressing condolences to the victims and families affected by the mill explosion.
“The company can only hope this is another step in the long healing process from the events that happened over three and a half years ago,” said the press release.
Hampton Affiliates has been in the sawmill business for over 70 years in both the U.S. and Canada. According to the company, they had never heard of or experienced a similar type of catastrophic sawmill event.
“We are eternally sorry for this lack of recognition and have taken many steps at all of our sawmills to ensure this never happens again,” said Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika. “We are also participating with other B.C. and U.S. sawmill owners to increase awareness and training relating to the risks of combustible dust in a sawmill environment.”
The inquest jury and coroner issued a number of recommendations, some of which are directed to Babine Forest Products and Hampton Affiliates.
Hampton Affiliates said those recommendations will be “considered carefully,” and that they will be “reviewed and discussed” with all Babine employees in the next 60 days.
The company added that the new Babine sawmill has been designed to meet or exceed all current fire, dust and electrical regulations.
“All material fire and emergency systems or safety processes proposed by the jury have already been implemented [at Babine Forest Products],” said the company.
Both the Babine and Decker Lake sawmills recently completed and passed third-party dust audits as required of all members of the council of forest industries in B.C.
“Safety is the number one priority for all Babine supervisors and employees, and there is continual and productive dialogue with WorkSafeBC,” said the company.
In 2012, Hampton Affiliates hired a director of safety who audits Hampton sawmill safety processes. The director is responsible for sharing safety information with all Hampton sawmills and corresponding with regulators and other industry participants.
“Hampton understands that sharing of information and best practices are key to continually improving the safety of its employees.”
During the inquest, workers’ testimony highlighted concerns over discrimination in the workplace. The coroners’ jury recommended hiring an Aboriginal liaison coordinator or worker ombudsman to assist employees with workplace concerns.
In response to this recommendation, Hampton Affiliates said they are proud of the fact that Babine is partially owned by First Nations and that it has the largest First Nations workforce of any sawmill in B.C. The Burns Lake Native Development Corporation owns 11 per cent of Babine Forest Products.
According to the company, when the new Babine sawmill restarted operations, cultural awareness training was arranged for all employees. In addition, Babine Forest Products said the company has six supervisors of First Nations relation, up from one supervisor prior to the accident.
“The company is committed to ensuring that it treats everyone with respect and is continually trying to improve communication to ensure Babine is a place where all of its employees want to work,” said Hampton Affiliates.
“Babine and Hampton will strive to ensure the safety of its workers and this focus will always be its utmost concern.”
The ministry of jobs, tourism and skills training and responsible for labour also sent out a press release after the inquest.
According to the ministry, the recommendations from the Babine Forest Products inquest will be reviewed and the government intends to report back in writing to the coroner on the work being done on all of the recommendations.
To read all the Babine inquest recommendations, visit pgc.cc/babinefindings
“Someone should have been held responsible,” says Lucy Charlie’s
Lucy Campbell, sister of Carl Charlie – killed in the Babine Forest Products explosion, said she feels the inquest did not bring her any comfort.
“Nobody from the mill [Babine Forest Products] or WorkSafeBC came up to me and apologized, or shook my hand,” she said.
Campbell, who was amongst the people lobbying for an inquiry, she said she was disappointed that nobody was held responsible for the mill deaths.
“Somebody didn’t do their job,” she said. “If this was all preventable, and they [the jury] acknowledged it, then someone should have been held responsible.”
In January 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Justice’s criminal justice branch (CJB) decided not to pursue charges against the owners of Babine Forest Products that were recommended by WorkSafeBC.
According to a story published by the Prince George Citizen, the decision by the CJB cited deficiencies with WorkSafeBC’s investigation and the likelihood Babine’s owners would be able to show they could not have foreseen the full extent of the hazards of combustible sawdust.
This decision prompted many people to ask for a public inquiry, as oppose to an inquest that can only provide recommendations.
“If you do something wrong, you pay the price for it,” said Campbell.
“I feel really disheartened right now,” she said. “I’m just hoping and praying that the recommendations will be enforced.”