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WorkSafeBC to inspect sawmills for dust bulildup

Nov. 1, 2013, Richmond, B.C. - Inspectors are heading back to 150 British Columbia sawmills over the next three months to ensure the operations are doing everything possible to reduce the buildup of potentially explosive wood dust.

November 1, 2013 
By The Canadian Press

WorkSafeBC said Thursday that a team of 10 officers will inspect the mills between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, as part of a drive to reduce dust levels aggravated by the processing of pine beetle-killed timber.

"We've been into these mills before a number of times and we just want to ensure that the progress we've seen in the mills to address dust continues, and the compliance with wood-dust management really is being sustained,'' said Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services at WorkSafeBC.

This is the third white-glove inspection for the mills since dust accumulation was implicated in an explosion and fire that killed 45-year-old Robert Luggie and 42-year-old Carl Charlie at the Babine Forest Products operation in Burns Lake on Jan. 20, 2012. The blast levelled the mill and injured 20 other people.

An investigation conducted by WorkSafeBC concluded that dry wood dust, which had accumulated from pine beetle-killed wood, fuelled an explosion ignited by machine parts.


A second fatal mill explosion occurred in April 2012 at the Lakeland Mills in Prince George. Two workers, Alan Little and Glenn Roche, died in the fiery blast.

The cause of that disaster hasn't been revealed by investigators, as WorkSafeBC has asked the Crown to review whether the companies or any individuals could be charged for violations of the Workers Compensation Act.

The organization's officers have carried out more than 1,000 inspections of sawmills and other wood processing operations since the combustible dust safety initiative began in late April 2012.

Johnson noted all sawmills in B.C. complied with an order to cut buildup, and he said the upcoming round of checks will also focus on preventative maintenance of equipment and machinery, and dust control.

"We want to make sure that those dust collection systems, where they're removing dust mechanically and then transferring it through piping into a collection system, we want to make sure that those systems are working as they should,'' he said.

The inspection protocol will also be slightly different this time, as the inspection period is shorter and the team is smaller, said Johnson.

Oregon-based Hampton Affiliates Ltd. is rebuilding the Burns Lake sawmill, which is expected to reopen in 2014. Reconstruction of Lakeland Mills began in the summer.

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