WorkSafeBC responds to mill safety concerns

WorkSafeBC issued a directive to all sawmill employers on April 26.

WorkSafeBC issued a directive to all sawmill employers on April 26.

The directive orders all sawmills in BC ‘without undue delay” to: “undertake a comprehensive risk assessment with respect to hazards created by combustible dusts, which assessment must include a thorough inspection of the employer’s facility, and develop and implement an effective combustible dust control program based on the risk assessment.”

WorkSafe has also committed to doing follow-up on-site inspections of all mills by May 9, 2012 to ensure employer’s have taken steps to comply with the directive.

Since late January, two sawmills in the region have exploded, killing and injuring workers.

The directive states failure to comply with the directive will result in further action which could include sanctions or stop work orders.

First the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake exploded on Jan. 20, 2012, killing one man and injuring  19 others. Then, on April 23, Lakeland Mills in Prince George experienced a similar incident. Two men have since died from their injuries and a total of 19 others were injured, five of these were still in serious condition as of April 25.

The tragic mill explosions have shaken confidence in mill worker safety in the region and WorkSafeBC is still investigating the causes of both explosions.

But wood dust has been suggested as a possible causal factor, given the large amounts of dry beetle-killed wood being processed in area mills.

A WorkSafeBC report from Feb. 9, 2012 did note accumulations of wood dust noticed by the inspector and a discussion regarding preventing hazardous accumulations was noted in the report. No direction was given to specific cleanup required.

Apollo Forest Products Ltd. is owned by the same parent company as the Lakeland Mill, Sinclar Group Forest Products Ltd. Tl’oh Forest Products is also a partnership between Nak’azdli First Nation and the Sinclair Group.

The Sinclar Group also operates Nechako Lumber, L&M Lumber and Premium Pellet in Vanderhoof.

Sinclar Group Forest Products acknowledged meetings are scheduled with WorkSafeBC regarding the latest directive to take a look at dust cleanup in their facilities.

The group hopes to clarify what the directive means and how to implement it to improve worker safety in their remaining mills.