The 2012 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 18, 2013.
The Vancouver Sun, in its investigation of explosions that killed four workers at two northern B.C. sawmills, found that wood dust was frequently involved in fires and that there were gaps in fire code inspections. The series led to action by the provincial government to reduce the risk of dust explosions and ensure all mills were properly inspected, while major forest companies promised an independent audit of dust levels. Gordon Hoekstra was the lead reporter.
Your Excellencies, Chief Justice, Parliamentarians, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour to be here tonight.
It is hard to describe these explosions and subsequent fires: the metal roofs and walls of the mills were blown off, dozens of workers were injured, hard hats melted on to some of the survivors.
Both took place in northern British Columbia —- One in January in tiny Burns Lake and another in Prince George in April.
These places are far from the province’s urban and political centres. They are the kind of places where people’s voices can get lost or forgotten.
The four men who died – Carl Charlie, Robert Luggi Jr. Glenn Roche and Alan Little – were husbands, fathers and friends in these communities.
Theirs was a story that needed a voice.
It’s why it was significant that the Vancouver Sun – with the support of Harold Munro, our editor in chief (who is here tonight) and Adrienne Tanner, our deputy managing editor — put people on the ground —- So that we were able to provide firsthand coverage.
That set the stage for the next important step.
That was an investigation —- to answer why provincial safety authorities and industry were not aware of the explosive potential of wood dust, particularly given that mills were sawing dead and dried-out timber from a pine beetle epidemic.
Using freedom of information requests, we created databases compiled from thousands of pages of safety documents.
You’ve heard of some of the results – industry and government acting on findings of lax regulatory structure, gaps in inspections and a history of fire and explosions tied to wood dust.
It is telling that both industry and government separately approached the Sun as we published stories from our rolling investigation.
We had their attention.
It is not often, that you get a call from a pair of cabinet ministers telling you they will be reacting to your stories, and safety will be improved.
In one of the latest developments, WorkSafeBC announced it completed its investigation and is going to hand its files over to Crown counsel for possible charges that could include rare jail time.
Companies said they were surprised that charges were being considered. I believe they still view the explosions as accidents.
It is a reminder why it is so important not to forget Carl, Robert, Glenn and Alan.
Their communities don’t see these explosions as accidents.
Thankfully, with the increased vigilance, there have been no further incidents.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 18, 2013.