According to published reports, the United Steelworkers Union of British Columbia has filed suit against forest company Weyerhaeuser, charging the company was criminally negligent in a tragic 2004 accident in which a sawmill worker died doing a job that management knew was unsafe.
The worker, Lyle Hewer, 55, died on Nov. 17, 2004, when he entered the bottom of a hopper — called a hog — filled with wood debris. The debris came loose and buried him alive.
Less than an hour before Hewer died, another worker had expressed concerns about the safety of the hog to a supervisor. The supervisor then approached Hewer to do the job.
Steelworkers union officials state that Hewer’s death was not only preventable but was the result of a criminal act by Weyerhaeuser. At the time of the accident, New Westminster city police recommended criminal charges be filed against Weyerhaeuser. However, the criminal justice branch said the evidence did not support a substantial likelihood of conviction.
Weyerhaeuser has since closed the mill, and the site is now a parking lot. But an investigation into Hewer’s death by WorkSafeBC found that Weyerhaeuser management had a high level of knowledge about the hazard but did nothing. Reports also say the violations were committed willfully or with reckless disregard.
Reportedly, Weyerhaeuser was fined the highest amount ever by WorkSafeBC, $297,000. WorkSafeBC also stated that Weyerhaeuser management had resisted work orders from line managers to make the hog safe, saying it would cost too much money.