Orders Piling Up in WorkSafeBC Sawmill Inspections

The inspections followed the agency’s April 26 directive order telling employers throughout the province they must implement an effective combustible dust control program based on a hazard assessment.

The Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia, known as WorkSafeBC, posted a list of the inspections its personnel have made at sawmills throughout the province to ensure they are complying with the agency's April 26 directive order. The order followed an April 23 explosion at the Lakeland Mills in Prince George, with one worker killed, and another sawmill explosion earlier this year.

The directive tells sawmill employers they must have separate exhaust ventilation systems for any combustible or flammable air contaminant in concentration that could present a fire or explosion risk, and also that they must remove combustible dust safely from structures, machinery, or equipment before it accumulates sufficiently to cause a fire or explosion.

It says they must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment for combustible dust hazards and must develop and implement an effective combustible dust control program based on that assessment.

Dozens of inspections have been made and one or more orders were issued during most of them, according to the database posted by the board, which is investigating both explosions. Roberta Ellis, vice president of Corporate Services, said April 24 that investigators were examining fuel sources, "including combustible sawdust and gas, as well as potential ignition sources" at the Babine Forest Products Mill site in Burns Lake, the site of the earlier explosion, in which two workers died and the mill was destroyed by fire.

"We recognize that there are similarities between the explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George —- both are sawmills, dust was present in both as in all sawmills, and both mills were working with beetle-infested wood," she said. "However, we cannot speculate, based on these similarities, as to the cause of these events."

WorkSafeBC is an independent provincial statutory agency serving nearly 2.1 million workers and about 202,000 employers. It resulted from a compromise between BC workers and employers in 1917 in which workers gave up the right to sue their employers and fellow workers for injuries on the job in return for a no-fault insurance program fully paid for by employers.

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