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Logging and Sawmilling Journal October/November 2011

October/november 2012

On the Cover:

Aspen Planers mill manager Surinder Momrath (right) with long time Aspen Planers employee Shalinder Wahid, who runs the mill’s LeTourneau equipment. Read all about how the LeTourneau equipment is helping Aspen Planers to efficiently manage their millyard, beginning on page 20.
(Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).

Dust audits for B.C. sawmills

Following two tragic mill explosions/fires earlier this year, British Columbia’s major forest companies are creating a third party-certified dust audit that is expected to cover areas such as the equipment used to reduce dust levels in mills, and what can be done to generally create a safer work environment.

Nice growth curve for Nic Pac

First Nations-owned Nic Pac Logging started out with a few pieces of equipment, but has grown over the years, and now has the latest in processing heads, with two 7000XT LogMax processor heads mounted on Deere and Hitachi carriers.

Managing the millyard in Merritt

Faced with limits on the space they have for log storage—and a good appetite for timber from their sawmill—Aspen Planers of Merritt, B.C. has found LeTourneau log stacking equipment to be a good ally in managing their millyard efficiently.

Top of The pack in plywood

The Columbia Forest Products plywood plant in St. Casimir, Quebec, may be the company’s smallest, but it certainly is near the top of the pack when it comes to being resourceful and productive, with a number of changes and upgrades in recent years.

The Edge

Included in The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from FPInnovations, the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions, Natural Resources Canada, Alberta’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department and Universite Laval.

What was new…at DEMO 2012 and the Timber Processing & Energy Expo

Logging and Sawmilling Journal reviews what was new at these two recent major industry shows at opposite ends of the continent, DEMO 2012 in Quebec and the Timber Processing & Energy Expo in Portland, Oregon.

Buncher boost

The new Rapid Cycle System (RCS) boom on John Deere bunchers is delivering a productivity boost, generally simplifying and speeding up the feller bunching process.

Ready-made homes

An automated home building company in Alberta is helping to bring an end to on-site framing crews, and could open a new market for direct wood products sales for forest companies and sawmills.

Portland timber/energy show sees a solid turnout

Getting more ROI on your truck tires

Straightforward maintenance checks in tire-related areas such as air pressure and proper alignments can boost the Return on Investment on your truck tires.

The Last Word

The new Wood Innovation & Design Centre proposed for Prince George, B.C., could spur emerging wood use technologies, says Jim Stirling.




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Dust ControlDust 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.

Dust controlThe 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 ( 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
tone, concluded Higginbotham.

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.

Gear reducers

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