Day 4 of the Coroner’s Inquest started a little behind schedule. It was 9:20 AM before the first survivor took the stand in the chilly Island Gospel Fellowship gym.
Prior to the explosion, Steve Stanyer had worked at Babine Forest Mill for 11 years as a millwright, fixing machinery on a day-to-day basis.
Stanyer said the plant underwent major changes when Hampton Affiliates took it over it 2006. The plant began running two 10-hour shifts instead of two 8-hours, resulting in more sawdust and less time for overnight crews to clean. The plant also experienced higher levels of dust when it began cutting extremely dry “beetle-kill” wood and green wood (freshly cut wood that still contains moisture).
He said that two veteran supervisors had recently retired, and their replacements were not experienced in winterizing the plant. This lead to equipment breaking, freezing temperatures in the workplace, and unsafe heating measures like boarding up windows.
Stanyer said he had spent time in the basement on the day of the explosion. He said there were 4 inches of sawdust covering the floor, which is significantly more than the WorkSafeBC limit of one-eighth of an inch.
At the time of the explosion, Stanyer was fixing a machine. The impact pinned his left arm while his face burned. He managed to crawl through a conveyor to safety.
He said he was never trained for emergencies like this.
A man named George George has worked at the Mill for close to 40 years.
He wrote and posted a letter at work concerning the plant’s air quality in December 2009. For this, George was suspended for 3 days without pay.
He filed and won a grievance, but said the suspension intimidated him from addressing this issue again. Another survivor later testified that George’s suspension scared other mill workers from bringing this issue forward.
George says he felt his letter “foretold the future,” however, it addressed respiratory concerns, not ones of fire or explosions.
George also raised concerns about a “Spark Watch:” those who accompany Millwrights to ensure safety. Spark Watches help clean the working area and watch for fire while Millwright’s work. Often times, Millwrights are using loud equipment and wearing special gear, which can limit their hearing and sight. George said he often saw other Millwrights working without a Spark Watch and believes this was the cause two fires about a year before the January 20th, 2012 explosion. However, he said he never reported these incidents.
Similar to those who have already testified, the two say they weren’t aware of dust’s explosive nature. Stayner also seemed unaware of metal dust’s explosivity until the crown told him today. He said he still hasn’t had much training on dust safety.
The inquest will continue tomorrow at 9 AM.