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Jury rules mill worker’s deaths were accidental

Aug. 4, 2015, Prince George, B.C. - A coroner's jury has ruled the deaths of two mill workers caught in a fiery explosion in Burns Lake, B.C., more than three years ago were accidental.

Robert Luggi, 45, and Carl Charlie, 42, were working at Babine Forest Products in the community 225 kilometres west of Prince George when the explosion occurred Jan. 20, 2012.

A coroner's jury heard from nearly 50 witnesses over the 13-day inquest held in Burns Lake.

The jury deliberated for two days and made 33 recommendations, while the coroner made an additional eight recommendations.

They suggested that the company install a fire-pumping system at its mill, have a stand-alone first aid facility, that the company ensure compliance with the National Fire Code and that a combustible gas monitor be used when workers report gas odours.

"Testimony showed major gaps in fire code knowledge and inspection requirements,'' the report read.

The jury also recommended that WorkSafeBC ensure officers have relevant and current training to carry out inspections at wood product manufacturing facilities, and that the agency develop a video or visual presentation to show workers the health and safety hazards of combustible wood dust.

A WorkSafeBC investigation concluded an accumulation of wood dust was a major factor in the blast.

The presiding coroner suggested B.C.'s ministry of justice make sure the fire commissioner's office has the resources needed to inspect industrial facilities across the province on a regular basis and that the Fire Services Act be amended to require fire inspections on unincorporated First Nations land.

Shirley Bond, the minister responsible for labour, released a statement thanking the jury for their recommendations.

"(The jury) recommendations received today will be reviewed and inform the efforts already underway across government to ensure worker safety,'' she said.

"Government intends to report back in writing to the coroner on the work being done on all of the recommendations.''

Lucy Campbell, Charlie's sister, said on the opening day of the inquest that her brother was known for his "incredible smile, great big hugs, handshakes and waves.''

She said he had worked at Babine Forest Products for more than 18 years.

Maureen Luggi, the wife of Robert Luggi, described her husband and the father of four as a happy, hard-working guy with a sense of humour.

She said her husband worked at the mill for more than 22 years, had been transferred to a new shift at the start of that year and was training to become a lead hand.

In May, a separate coroner's jury into the April 23, 2012, explosion at Lakeland Mills in Prince George, issued 33 recommendations and also found the deaths of 46-year-old Glenn Roche and 43-year-old Alan Little were accidents.

WorkSafeBC fined Lakeland Mills Ltd. over $700,000 in penalties.

The Crown declined to approve charges in both cases, in part over concerns that evidence collected by WorkSafeBC would not be admissible in court.

August 4, 2015  By The Canadian Press

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