Mill explosions hang over day of mourning

VANCOUVER — Two deadly explosions at British Columbia mills have cast a pall over an annual day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

VANCOUVER — Two deadly explosions at British Columbia mills have cast a pall over an annual day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

WorkSafeBC held its day of mourning ceremony Friday, just four days after two workers were killed when a sawmill in Prince George exploded — three months after another explosion in Burns Lake killed two mill workers.

George Morfitt, chairman of WorkSafeBC’s board of directors, said the explosions serve as a sad reminder that some workers are still at risk on the job.

The Lakeland mill in Prince George exploded on Monday, killing two workers and injuring many others. Alan Little, a 43-year-old shift supervisor, died Tuesday morning in Prince George, while Glenn Francis Roche, 46, died in an Edmonton hospital.

In mid-January, two workers were killed when a fireball slammed through the mill in Burns Lake. The victims were Robert Luggi, 45, and 42-year-old Carl Charlie.

Morfitt said that while those deaths were tragic, they are among more than 100 workplace fatalities that happen every year. Last year, WorkSafeBC recorded 142 workers killed on the job, including 42 who died in worksite accidents.

“These aren’t numbers and statistics — these are real human beings with families and friends who love them and who suffer greatly for their loss,” said Morfitt.

“These workers must be remembered and mourned. We must learn from what happened to them, and determine how to prevent it from happening again so they did not die in vain.”

The cause of the explosions in Prince George and Burns Lake remains a mystery, but excessive dust — which can be highly explosive if left uncontrolled — has emerged as a possibility.

Those concerns prompted the B.C. government to announce safety inspections of all the province’s mills this week.

Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid told the ceremony that the day of mourning was a sombre occasion, and she promised the families of the victims would have answers about what happened.

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