Sawmills perform risk assessments

West Fraser's 100 Mile Lumber recognized for sawdust management program

At least 11 B.C. Interior sawmills had hazardous levels of wood dust a week after WorkSafeBC issued sawdust cleanup and risk assessment orders following two deadly explosions earlier this year.

WorkSafeBC reports obtained by media indicate West Fraser’s 100 Mile Lumber mill stood out above the rest as a positive example in having taken action to remove wood dust and improve safety earlier and more efficiently than the majority of the 70 mills inspected.

100 Mile Lumber general manager Peter Andrews says West Fraser is “very committed” to ensuring all its facilities are maintained to a high safety standard.

“I’m very pleased with the progress we have made, as we move from general cleanup to pro-actively apply more focus on wood dust prevention and management.”

WorkSafeBC inspectors performed follow-up inspections in early May, and the Vancouver Sun reported the results state 11 of the 46 Interior mills that process pine-beetle wood had sufficient sawdust remaining to pose an explosion hazard.

According to the Lower Mainland paper, WorkSafeBC reported the 100 Mile House mill took proactive measures immediately after the January explosion, including inspections, increasing graveyard- and weekend-shift cleanup, evaluating its emergency lighting, response plans and firefighting equipment and initiating experiments with controlling dust with mist.

Andrews says the local mill is integrating many projects and initiatives and engaging its employees to make the facility “among the very best” in terms of cleanliness, worker safety and emergency preparedness.

“I’m proud that we’ve made our sawmill a much safer and healthier place for everyone working here.”

The WorkSafeBC edict came the day after an explosion levelled the Lakeland Mills in Prince George on April 23, killing two workers and injuring 24 others. In January, a Burns Lake sawmill exploded and claimed the lives of two employees, with 19 more injured.

While the causes of the deadly explosions are not known, sawdust is part of the investigations.

Meanwhile, Lakeland Mills recently closed its planer mill temporarily after high levels of methane gas were detected. It reopened last week.

100 Mile House Fire-Rescue chief Darrell Blades also performs local mill safety inspections, and says there “haven’t been too many issues” with dust hazards in this area.

“I’ve talked to both of the mills here – even before the latest [explosion] at Lakeland in Prince George, and they were well aware of the risks of it and they were working on their clean-up programs.”

During the annual fire inspections he recently performed, Blades says he didn’t find unusual amounts of sawdust accumulating or other concerns at either local mill, 100 Mile Lumber or Ainsworth Engineered.

He notes dust is hazardous, especially when it accumulates in poorly ventilated buildings, so Blades says he hopes all the mills get on board and clean it up.

The fire chief adds he’s pleased WorkSafeBC is requiring mills use a vacuum system wherever possible for sawdust collection.

The hazard is all about wood dust particulate size, he explains, and doesn’t involve the larger, regular “sawdust” but rather clouds of fine dust in the air.

Blades says the theory is an initial explosion shakes up more loose dust and causes multiple secondary explosions.

“I think there are some good positives coming out of those horrible two events with the loss of life.

“It is typical cleanup, but it needs to be done on a recurring basis.”

Andrews notes West Fraser chair and CEO Hank Ketcham is part of a new provincial task force that will generate a comprehensive report on wood dust.

West Fraser has also assigned a new corporate wood dust co-ordinator to assist each facility in moving towards higher standards of dust control, he adds.

More information on recent WorkSafeBC mill explosion investigations and cleanup requirements is available online at www.worksafebc.com/ under announcements.