Attention sawmill owners and operators: Follow-up reports to 2012 sawmill explosion released

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Synopsis: Following the January 20, 2012 sawmill explosion and fire that killed two employees and injured 20 people, several safety associations have issued recommendations to improve the identification and management of hazardous locations with regard to combustible wood dust.

One of the most important issues that came up in the BC Safety Authority report was the use of static and mobile propane and natural gas equipment within sawmills. The report noted that in the course of day-to-day operations, some activities may drift away from the original assumed conditions – making a once-safe location now hazardous. Increased worker awareness towards these hazards, a regular risk assessment conducted by qualified personnel, and designation of hazardous locations within each facility will ensure the maintenance of safe conditions and your compliance with British Columbia’s Safety Standards Act.

New developments in sawmill safety you should know about

1. WorkSafeBC directive

WorkSafeBC issued a directive order in 2012 for all BC sawmill employers to immediately: 

    • Undertake a comprehensive risk assessment with respect to hazards created by combustible dusts, including a thorough inspection of the employer’s facility, and
    • Develop and implement an effective combustible dust control program based on that risk assessment. 

2. WorksafeBC: Wood Dust in Sawmills: Compilation of Industry Best Practices

“Offered in the hope that it will help prevent such tragedies in the future,” the comprehensive compilation of best practices is dedicated “to the memory of workers who have suffered and lost their lives from the hazards of combustible dusts.” 

WorksafeBC’s Wood Dust in Sawmills: Compilation of Industry Best Practices incorporates industry information from Canfor, FM Global, Interfor, Norbord, Weyerhaeuser, and Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America, among others. 

3. BC Safety Authority recommendations

The BC Safety Authority made nine recommendations regarding wood dust, three of them aimed at owners and operators of wood processing facilities. 

Recommendations to Owners and Operators of Wood Processing Facilities

Recommendation #1:

Document a facility assessment to identify hazardous locations completed by a qualified professional in accordance with recognized industry standards.

Recommendation #2:

Where hazardous locations are identified and contain regulated equipment, document a plan to either:

    • Develop and implement auditable wood dust management practices for these locations acceptable by a qualified person as an effective means to manage the combustion hazard, or
    • Configure the equipment for safe operation given the presence of the combustible dust hazard. Safe operating configurations include either obtaining approval for operation in the hazardous location, or permanent removal of the equipment from the hazardous location.  

Recommendation #3:

Incorporate identification of hazardous locations and methods to manage combustion hazards into the facility’s Fire Safety Plan or other relevant documents.

Read the full Recommendations Report regarding sawmill safety and the January 2012 Babine Forest Products explosion and fire. 

How WSN helps Ontario sawmill owners and operators

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