Business

Lumber, pellet mills still have dust hazard

Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20, 2012, after dry wood dust exploded and caused a fire that killed two employees and injured 20 others. A similar fatal explosion and fire struck a Prince George mill in April 2012. - Laura Blackwell/Lakes District News
Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20, 2012, after dry wood dust exploded and caused a fire that killed two employees and injured 20 others. A similar fatal explosion and fire struck a Prince George mill in April 2012.
— image credit: Laura Blackwell/Lakes District News

Sawmills have improved their control of combustible dust, but non-compliant wood product manufactures are still being found by stepped-up inspections since two fatal explosions in northern B.C. in 2012.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond has promised to implement all recommendations of a new report recommending continued inspections and penalties for mills, and a separate investigative unit for WorkSafeBC that will seek prosecutions for unsafe conditions.

Bond released the report Tuesday, showing that sawmill compliance with dust control standards has gone from 58% to 84% in the latest round of inspections.

Inspections of 15 pellet mills, pressboard and oriented strand board manufacturers showed they are still lagging behind.

"Their 40% compliance rate was a disappointment, especially in the wake of all that's been said and done to this point," Bond said.

The B.C. industry has hired five independent advisors to help mills comply with WorkSafeBC health and safety rules, and the Council of Forest Industries has agreed to make membership in the outside audit program a condition of membership in the industry group.

Two workers died and 20 others were injured when an explosion and fire tore through the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake on Jan. 20, 2012. On April 23, a similar explosion killed two workers and injured 22 more at Lakeland Mills in Prince George.

Babine Forest Products has appealed fines totalling more than $1 million imposed by WorkSafeBC. Crown prosecutors declined to charge companies and individuals in the two mill incidents, saying some evidence from the WorkSafeBC investigation may not be admissible in court. Prosecutors also concluded that mill operators would likely be acquitted using a "due diligence" defence.

Bond said WorkSafeBC investigators will be reorganized into two teams as a result of the sawmill findings.

"It means that the moment they sense that an investigation may move from looking for the cause of an incident to the potential for prosecution, that the initial team would stop their work," Bond said. "A completely separate unit would begin the work again with an eye to a successful prosecution."

 

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