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October 28, 2017 5:31 am

Workers Knew Beetle Dust Dangerous Says Witness

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 @ 4:00 AM

Prince George, B.C.- Brian Primrose worked at Lakeland Mills for  30 years until that fateful night in April when  there was an explosion and fire that would  leave two people dead and 22 workers injured. Testifying at the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Alan Little and Glenn Roche,  Primrose said mill workers knew there was danger  in the dust from the beetle killed wood they were processing.

“The staffing levels were not what we needed to clean up the dust”  said Primrose.   He testified job descriptions had changed, and those who  had formerly  been tasked with maintenance were now  tasked with changing knives . He said  the addition of a third shift and  one on the weekends left little time for  clean up and dust removal.

Primrose testified the dust from the  beetle  kill  logs was different  from what they had been  used to “The sawdust used to be moist and grainy, but  this dust (beetle killed wood dust) was like dirty  yellow flour.”

He said the  dust was  “finer, lighter, and  hung in the air longer”  and told the coroner’s jury he often looked out from his  operations booth through a haze  “The way it wafted, it looked like smoke, so I would have to leave my shack (operations booth) to smell it to  know it wasn’t.” He said the  haze was particularly thick when the bag house was out of operation ( system used to  vacuum dust) and that the  bag house system was out of  commission frequently.

Lakeland had experienced two fires in the mill in the week before Babine Forest Products  mill would  be ripped apart by a blast and fire.  The first happened on the 17th of January,  when a saw motor  blew up and  workers were able to put out the fire with a  fire extinguisher.  Two days later, there was another fire,  which he believes was sparked by a saw blade deviating from its course and striking metal “The flames travelled up in to the air” said Primrose “I heard a loud popping banging sound, like an explosion.  Glenn (Roche) and I ran into the area with our fire extinguishers, but we were thinking we should be running the other way.”  He said that particular fire “was a wake up call for us.”

When the Babine Forest Products explosion happened just days later,  he said he called Glenn Roche at home,  “He was as freaked out as I was. We went back to work on Monday morning and the level of dust was worse than ever.  We called Al Little and  had a meeting  we said, ‘What the hell are we gonna do here?  Someone’s gonna die’  and  Al said ‘You’re right,  I’m shutting  this  down ( until  the dust is cleared) Nobody’s gonna die on my shift.’

Three months later,  there would be two deaths on Al Little’s shift, as Al Little and Glenn Roche  would both lose their lives as a result of an explosion and fire that ripped  through the Lakeland Mill.

The inquest resumes this morning with Lorne Hartford expected to be the first to take the stand.


After the exonomic downturn of 2008, Lakeland brought in new management. This management team cut clean up because of that lack of economic return on the job, and the clean up that was kept changed knives on a new chipper system that produced lower quality chips than the one it replaced.

I can say with all honesty that Glenn did indeed think he was going to die in a fire. He said it. People say why didn’t the Union do this, why didn’t they do that. There was a culture of fear in the workplace, the majority of the workers were not employable with the skill set they had, and remained quiet. As for lower level management, alot of management was let go, and the remaining were just “tip toeing through the tulips.”

has anyone thought of putting up stone dust barriers near the high accumulation areas? they use this in underground coal mines in the event of an explosion, the stone dust reduces the severity of the explosion.

From what I understand the new mill has suction at the cutting sites and beams are sheared in to prevent dust build up.

Must be hard for all workers involved to relive this horrible incident your fellow usw brothers and sisters are behind you justise will never bring back the men and horrors you encountered get to the bottom of it
Thank you from fellow saw millers across the country

fear in the workplace, the majority of the workers were not employable with the skill set they had, and remained quiet.

Sometimes speaking up doesn’t do anything other than make the employee get tagged as a trouble maker. Especially if they bring it up multiple times. The safety meetings, and safety captains have no positive effect if management wants to ignore the issues.

And where was the WCB in all this? Were they not monitoring and writing orders to keep the dust cleaned up?

The mill was cited numerous times for dust in the air, and poor clean up practices. All this is documented on the wcb web website. That’s what makes this all the worse.

How can the company be cited for fire danger, over and over and then burn down, kill people, and no one is responsible.

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