Several people have been at the coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Glenn Roche and Alan Little every day since it began.
Included in those who have sat in the gallery every day are Ronda Roche, Glenn Roche’s widow, and Greg Stewart, CEO of the Sinclar Group, Lakeland Mills parent company.
Ronda Roche testified on the first day of the inquest and Stewart was the last on the stand before it adjourned Wednesday.
“This incident was awful for all of us. This has been a very, very tough event for our organization,” Stewart said and, turning to Roche, added. “We’re so sorry that this has happened and what the families have had to go through. I can’t even imagine what it has been like.”
Earlier in his testimony, Stewart said he had just put his daughters to bed on the night of April 23, 2012 when he got the call that there had been an explosion and fire at Lakeland Mills. He said he called mill manager Mike Richard and they headed down to the site. They couldn’t get access into the site, so helped police and fire crews identify who was in the mill at the time.
He said they eventually left the site and he called the management team to tell them what was happening and then went to the hospital to wait for news on the injured men.
When asked by coroner’s counsel John Orr what went wrong, Stewart said it was a “complex” issue that could have been avoided.
“It was a dust explosion,” he said. “The question is how did we get to that point? There were steps that individuals and companies could have taken to prevent this, and they were missed.”
When pressed about what those steps were that were missed, Stewart said it was the lack of knowledge of the hazards, not only at Lakeland, but in the industry in general.
Stewart said safety has always been a priority of his and, through a company-wide process, Sinclar Group adopted the tagline “safety by choice, not by chance.”
He said he was aware the occupational health and safety committee was having trouble getting people to attend and following a February 6, 2012 inspection by WorkSafeBC had set up a steering committee. In December of 2011, Stewart met with every shift at the mill to stress safety and stress to the workers that they have the right to refuse unsafe work.
However, he agreed that there is peer pressure and fear of losing one’s job that often prevents workers from coming forward.
“The hard part of the right to refuse work is that there has to be trust,” Stewart said, adding the company is working on a safe disclosure policy.
Stewart said he did not know that supervisor Al Little had been raising the issue of dust in the mill. Stewart was also not informed of two January 2012 fires in the mill, one the day before the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake exploded. He was aware, however, of a fire in the baghouse and one in the system leading to the baghouse.
Stewart also had, at the inquest, a copy of the company’s fire safety plan, which has been presented to the Prince George Fire Rescue Service for review and, hopefully, adoption later this year.