Union calls for strengthened safety regulations in report on 2012 mill explosions

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A report on the deadly 2012 sawmill explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George says the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation should be strengthened -- and it calls for the designation of a workers ombudsperson.

Steve Hunt of the United Steelworkers says the union supports the recommendation, which he says would bolster workers' fundamental rights to refuse unsafe work, to know about workplace hazards and to participate in health and safety decisions.

"In the case of the two sawmill explosions, all three of them were violated terribly, and enhancing the right to refuse and even putting in an ombudsperson for workers, I think, helps," he said.

Hunt says the changes would go a long way in bolstering workers' right to refuse unsafe work.

"When workers want to exercise their right to refuse, some of them are absolutely intimidated or, if it's a non-union workplace, maybe there's nobody there to support them so more often than not, we see workers or hear of workers or investigate where workers die or are seriously injured because they didn't exercise their right to refuse."

Vancouver lawyer Lisa Helps says in her report that workers at one of the sawmills reported being reassigned after refusing unsafe work, only to see another employee doing the job they deemed dangerous.

Helps says one possible remedy could be a requirement that employers notify the new worker of the previous worker's refusal and offer them an option to decline.