Weyerhaeuser Hit with Largest Safety Fine in B.C.

WorkSafeBC, British Columbia's workplace safety agency, has proposed a penalty of $297,120 (U.S. $256,058) against Weyerhaeuser Canada in connection with a workplace fatality that occurred in 2004 at a New Westminster sawmill.

The amount – which is the largest workplace safety fine in British Columbia history – includes a $250,000 penalty and a claim cost levy of $47,120. According to a WorkSafeBC spokeswoman, a claim cost levy is a fine that reimburses WorkSafeBC for any claim benefits that the agency pays to survivors of workplace accidents or to accident victims' dependents.

“This penalty recommendation reflects the seriousness of the violations cited by our investigator,” said Roberta Ellis, vice president of the Investigation Division of WorkSafeBC. “Our investigation concluded that the employer was aware of the hazards associated with this fatality – and had been for a long time.”

Agency: Weyerhaeuser Knew Hazards of “Hog” Machine

The incident occurred on Nov. 17, 2004. According to WorkSafeBC, the worker was killed when he was engulfed by wood waste material while cleaning out a “hog” machine at the New Westminster sawmill owned by Weyerhaeuser. The machine pulverizes waste-wood products and WorkSafeBC alleges that workers had to climb inside to manually remove waste-wood products and clear out any plugs.

According to WorkSafeBC, a hog is essentially a “confined space” as defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.

WorkSafeBC's investigation concluded that Weyerhaeuser was informed of safety hazards associated with the hog machine and workers were exposed to the hazard for several years. According to the agency, 12 individuals in management or supervisory roles were aware that the existing process for clearing the hog posed a significant risk to workers but the company made no significant changes to address the hazard until after the fatality.

Court Decided Not to Pursue Criminal Charges

Weyerhaeuser's prior knowledge of the risks associated with the hog raised the question of criminal negligence. WorkSafeBC referred the matter to New Westminster Police for investigation under the Criminal Code of Canada.

After conducting a lengthy investigation, the police submitted a report to Crown Counsel on Sept. 1. In November, Crown Counsel advised that it would not be proceeding with criminal negligence charges and referred the matter back to WorkSafeBC.

The WorkSafeBC investigation concluded that Weyerhaeuser, in violation of provincial safety and health regulations, allegedly:

  • Failed to adequately ensure the safety of its workers.
  • Failed to ensure that workers must not enter into any place where there is a danger of engulfment or entrapment.
  • Failed to identify the hog as a confined space or comply with any of the other requirements for confined spaces.
  • Failed to adequately investigate a report of an unsafe condition and failed to take immediate corrective action.

Under British Columbia law, Weyerhaeuser will have the opportunity to reply to the proposed penalty before a final decision is made. Following that decision, the company and other parties have the right to request a review of the penalty and claim cost levy to the Review Division of WorkSafeBC and can appeal a Review Division decision to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

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