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Monday, March 2, 2015

Progress in controlling wood dust explosions

From the Vancouver Sun

Progress made in controlling wood dust in mills, agency reports

 

Scrutiny continues on industry after deadly wood dust-fuelled explosions in 2012


Smoke rises from the burned out Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake in January 2012.

Smoke rises from the burned out Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake in January 2012.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, THE CANADIAN PRESS



The B.C. sawmill industry is making progress in controlling potentially explosive wood dust, but monitoring will continue, says WorkSafeBC.
 
The chief agency responsible for workplace safety issued only three orders for wood dust problems during the latest inspection period between Oct. 1, 2014 and Jan. 31 that involved 117 sawmills.

The results, however, cannot be compared to those from the four previous inspection rounds when dozen of orders were issued because this time WorkSafeBC gave companies that had a good wood dust safety record the option of conducting their own daily inspection and reporting to WorkSafeBC on a weekly basis.

Of 106 mills who passed previous rounds of inspections, 96 chose to do this.

The other mills opted for WorkSafeBC inspections or third-party inspections.

The orders included one on Nov. 5 against Teal Cedar in Surrey for not developing and implementing a wood-dust  management program, according to inspection reports obtained from WorkSafeBC.

Another order was issued Nov. 25 to Conifex Timber in Fort St. James for wood dust accumulations at the sawmill  chipper determined to be a “high risk” of fire.

The area of the mill was ordered to be shut down while it was cleaned, which took less than two hours.

“We are pleased with what we see, but also still cautious,” said WorkSafeBC vice-president prevention Al Johnson.

He noted that because mills had been given the option of self-inspections, they would need to “validate” progress with another round of WorkSafeBC inspections, likely before the summer.

“But indications are that mills have taken a strong level of ownership to the issue,” said Johnson.

He said he’s hopeful the daily inspections and other measures will become part of the industry’s health-and-safety culture and WorkSafeBC can eventually cease its special attention to wood dust.

The latest inspection results were outlined in an interim report released Wednesday on a plan by former B.C. bureaucrat Gord Macatee to improve investigations to increase chances of court convictions and improve safety at sawmills.

Macatee was appointed by the B.C. Liberal government as a special adviser to WorkSafeBC after investigations failed to result in court charges in two deadly wood dust-fuelled sawmill explosions in 2012. The explosions at Babine Forest  Products near Burns Lake and at Lakeland Mills in Prince George killed four workers and severely injured dozens more.

Macatee said he was pleased 96 mills opted for their own daily inspections. “What I was trying to get to was just because you were lucky enough to not to have a problem the day the inspector happened to be there, you also need to be sure you are good every day,” he said.

Council of Forest Industries president James Gorman said he believes improved dust management at sawmills will be  maintained because mills have embedded dust control into their daily operations and spent millions of dollars upgrading equipment to control dust.

In a previous round of WorkSafeBC inspections, during the winter of 2013, 42 per cent of 144 sawmills inspected  received citations for dust accumulations, ventilation problems, inadequate dust control programs or the use of high-pressure air to move dust.

That same winter, WorkSafeBC issued 13 stop-work orders for levels of wood dust it considered an immediate safety threat.

During the latest round of WorkSafeBC’s inspections of B.C.’s 10 wood pellet plants, four orders were issued including a stop-work order at Okanagan Pellet in West Kelowna on Nov. 18.

ghoekstra@vancouversun.com
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