In early 2012, two sawmill explosions in northern British Columbia caused four deaths and dozens of injuries. The explosions, as determined by WorkSafeBC, were caused by improper management of wood dust in the mills and were preventable. In both cases, however, the Crown declined to lay criminal charges against the employers, citing problems with WorkSafeBC's investigation process.

WorkSafeBC conducted an internal review with appointed administrator, Gordon Macatee, submitting a report (the "Macatee Report") that outlines 43 recommendations to strengthen WorkSafeBC's ability to protect workers in British Columbia. On July 15, 2014, the government accepted all 43 recommendations, and our July 30, 2014 bulletin outlined some of the proposed recommendations.

Twelve recommendations required legislative changes, which resulted in Bill 9, the "Workers Compensation Amendment Act". On May 14, 2015, Bill 9 received royal assent and made the following immediate changes:

  • WorkSafeBC's "stop work order", injunction, and administrative penalty powers were expanded; and
  • Employer obligations to conduct investigations following worker injuries, deaths, and near misses, were broadened and a mandatory timeline was created.

A second tranche of changes was implemented on August 4, 2015 and will come into force September 15, 2015, including:

  • The introduction of "compliance agreements" for low risk offenders; and
  • A reduction in time to apply for a review of a WorkSafeBC decision from 90 days to 45 days. 

Bill 9 also created an administrative "on the spot" penalty of up to $1,000 for failure to comply with occupational health and safety regulations, including failure to wear personal protective equipment. That power came into force on August 4, 2015, but is not expected to be implemented until 2016, following further consultations with industry stakeholders.

The New Investigation Procedure

The changes to employer investigation obligations are likely to affect a broad range of employers. Prior to Bill 9, employers were required to conduct investigations following incidents resulting in injury or death or near misses, but were not required to adhere to any timeline. Bill 9 does not change the circumstances triggering an investigation, but requires that a preliminary investigation be conducted immediately, and that a preliminary report be produced within 48 hours. British Columbia is now one of four jurisdictions that prescribe a mandatory timeline for investigations (the others are Ontario, Quebec, and the federal jurisdiction).

The preliminary report must be produced to WorkSafeBC upon request. If the preliminary report identifies a corrective action following from the incident, an interim Corrective Action Report must be produced and implemented.

Following the completion of the preliminary investigation, the employer must immediately undertake a full investigation. The required contents of the full investigation report remains unchanged. Employers must still determine the cause or causes, and identify unsafe conditions, acts, or procedures that significantly contributed to the incident. The full investigation report must be submitted to WorkSafeBC within 30 days after the incident.

Once the full investigation report is completed, the employer must carry out any further corrective actions identified in the report, and subsequently produce a Corrective Action Report summarizing those actions. The Corrective Action Report must be distributed in the workplace.

According to the Macatee Report, the introduction of the mandatory timelines will encourage employers to quickly identify and adopt corrective actions to ensure that similar accidents are prevented from happening again.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.