Or CLICK to download a pdf of this article
Dust control audit standards in the works
In the wake of two devastating mill fires and explosions earlier this year, B.C.’s major forest companies are working on developing a voluntary dust control audit standard that will be available early in 2013.
By Jim Stirling
A voluntary dust control audit standard should be available to all British Columbia’s sawmills in January. The standard is the fruition of months of detailed investigation and analysis by the province’s 10 largest sawmill companies and their partners. The initiative follows two devastating explosions and fires earlier in 2012 at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills that together resulted in four sawmill worker deaths and many injuries.
The causes of the accidents remained under investigation at press time. But accumulations of dust—including that associated with processing dry beetle killed timber—have been identified as potentially being part of the cause of the sawmill explosions and fires.
Developing a dust control audit standard began with Canada’s two largest forest companies. Hank Ketcham, chairman, president and CEO of West Fraser Timber and Don Kayne, CEO and president of Canfor, began informally discussing last May what the industry might usefully do while awaiting the official investigations to run their course. They were driven by events at Babine and Lakeland and wanted to be more proactive, explained Ken Higginbotham, project manager for the audit standard development process.
Ketcham and Kane found a ready consensus among the CEOs of other major forest companies operating in B.C. The group of 10 comprises West Fraser; Canfor; Tolko; Interfor; Western Forest Products; Weyerhaeuser; Dunkley; Conifex; the Sinclar Group and Hampton Affiliates.
The vehicle the CEOs chose to drive their plans was the Manufacturing Advisory Group (MAG). It was created around 2009, for safety experts within the provincial sawmilling community to share and discuss best practices and wood processing plant safety issues, said Higginbotham.
The CEOs also added two representatives of the Steelworkers union, including CEO Bob Matters, to represent hourly workers in the groups’ deliberations,
The next stage in the game plan was to enlist the expertise of FP Innovations.
“Several of the forest companies, including West Fraser and Canfor, are members of the organization and they’ve got top-notch scientists,” Higginbotham said.
FP Innovations launched a literature review of what’s known about dust accumulations and characteristics and posted the results on the Council of Forest Industries website (www.cofi.org). The investigation went beyond wood dust to other industries including a coal mine in Fernie and grain handling facilities in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Dust samples were collected from 19 sawmills in the province from Vancouver Island to Cranbrook.
“Together they handled both green and beetle wood and included a species representation,” outlined Higginbotham.
FP Innovations staff collected the dust in the vicinity of machine centres and allowed the material to first collect and layer. “Between June and August, about 400 samples were taken with different sizes and moisture contents.”
Each of the 19 participant mills received a report on the analysis. As well, other samples were exposed to about 30 explosion tests conducted by a specialist outside company. “We think that’s a statistically valid sample.”
The MAG was divided into five sub groups, which included representation from the sawmill insurance industry. One of the groups was charged with writing a draft dust control standard, a process now complete.
Pilot testing began in November at about half-a-dozen sawmills of different sizes and using different equipment. One of the pilots was at a small sawmill operation. “The 10 companies probably represent about 70 per cent of the provincial lumber production and operate 55 sawmills,” noted Higginbotham. “But there are about 120 sawmills in the province that were not part of the group.” The plan is to make the completed standard available to all mill owners to consider.
When the pilot testing process is complete along with any subsequent tweaking, it’s anticipated that, too, will be posted on COFI’s website.
WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Safety Authority have been closely informed and updated with the progress of the group of 10’s initiatives. “We think we’ve developed a pretty good relationship with WorkSafe,” reported Higginbotham. Two recent alerts from the organization—one about “winterizing” and the other about a common gear reducer used in sawmills that can generate heat—were made more widely available to the B.C. sawmilling industry through COFI’s website (see sidebar story Page 8 on these hazard alerts).
WorkSafe sawmill inspection teams discovered the mills’ ownership had instituted improved housekeeping practices and dust control strategies especially following the second mill explosion at Lakeland. For example, misters have been installed in some operations to increase humidity and steps have been taken to try and prevent dust from seeping into electrical boxes.
“Overall, the process has been a very positive experience,” summarized Higginbotham, “and we anticipate some ongoing follow up.” He said there’s been talk within the CEOs to put the MAG group on a more formal and less ad hoc basis to look at safety issues surrounding wood manufacturing. And it may be that the industry as a whole—management and hourly staff —would benefit from more training in these issues, he added.
New regulations will ultimately follow the announcements and findings into the official causes of the sawmill explosions. As those regulations are formulated, they’d like it to have a collaborative
B.C. government takes steps to increase safety measures in sawmills
The British Columbia government has taken steps to close potential inspection loopholes to ensure sawmills in small and remote communities are in full compliance with updated fire control regulations.
The move comes in the wake of two devastating explosions and fires at B.C. Interior sawmills that claimed four workers’ lives and scarred many others.
The new Fire Inspection and Prevention Initiative will train WorkSafeBC and B.C. Safety Authority officers during the next two years to include fire safety inspections in their regular sawmill examinations. For example, under the new legislation, sawmills must be able to demonstrate that sprinkler and fire alarm systems are tested and mill safety plans are in place.
Sawmill dust mitigation practices will also be inspected.
Results of the official investigations into the causes of the explosions and fires at Babine Forest Products in January and Lakeland Mills in April are anticipated by the end of 2012. Dust accumulations have been identified as a possible contributing factor in the explosions.
The B.C. government has allocated $1 million for inspector training and company education as part of the Fire Inspection and Prevention Initiative. The government has also announced the development of new computer software to assist the inspection officers to better communicate with each other.
Fire inspection compliance has in the past been left to understaffed and underfunded local fire departments in small communities. Other sawmills, including Babine Forest Products, are located on First Nations land where fire inspection duties are a federal government responsibility.
WorkSafeBC issues hazard alerts
WorkSafeBC has provided the forest industry with two important hazard alerts that address the potential risks that may exist in wood products manufacturing facilities. These hazard alerts were developed from information gathered during the course of investigations of the two sawmill explosions earlier this year in Burns Lake and Prince George.
Combustible dust in winter
The combustible dust in winter hazard alert addresses the increased risk of a combustible dust explosion associated with winter conditions. The risk of a dust explosion increases when low humidity levels, like those seen in winter months, make dust easy to disperse and ignite. In fact, industrial accident investigations by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found that seven out of eight fatal combustible dust explosions from 1995 to 2009 occurred during cold winter months when these weather conditions were most prominent.
One of the two tragic sawmill incidents in British Columbia occurred in the middle of winter, the second occurred in early spring.
Employers need to assess their workplaces for any additional risks associated with dust accumulations and the methods used to control dust in winter, says the hazard alert.
WorkSafeBC officers have also learned that a common piece of machinery, gear reducers, including those manufactured by Highland Industries, may overheat in certain circumstances, and become dangerous in wood processing environments if other factors are present. It is critical that employers understand the hazard and take the appropriate steps to eliminate the risk, it says.
Full information on these hazard alerts is available on the website at www.WorkSafeBC.com
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.