Health and safety specialists tour Ontario wood pellet plant

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

WSN team visits Temiskaming Shores

Workers gathered outside Ontario wood pellet plant

With rising global demand, European exports of wood pellets have doubled over the past couple of years, although the market is still in its infancy in North America, according to Working Forest newspaper. Recently, forestry health and safety specialists from Workplace Safety North (WSN) toured the wood pellet plant KD Quality Pellets located just north of New Liskeard, Ontario, also known as Temiskaming Shores.  

The WSN team assisted by KD Quality Pellets staff Marc Hamelin, Operation Coordinator, and Skyler Huard, Plant Operator and worker member representative on the Joint Health and Safety Committee, complete an occupational health and safety risk assessment for their operation. The main areas of focus included: (1) guarding and lockout of equipment; (2) access ladders; and (3) wood dust, both as it pertains to air quality, and as a potential for combustible dust explosion.

Pellets are made from wood chips and sawdust, and WSN is in regular contact with these relatively new workplaces, which are often located near sawmills in the same northern Ontario regions. 

3 workers view processing at wood pellet plant“At the beginning of the tour, the operation coordinator, Marc Hamelin, started by showing us how the loader dumps wood chips, sawdust and other by-products of milling processes into the in-feed,” says Tom Welton, Industrial Director at WSN. “We were impressed with the effective machine guarding and discussed the lockout procedure to address a jam of material. During a jam, in order to investigate and remove an item, machine safeguards may have to be removed – so locking out the equipment to prevent anyone from inadvertently powering it up is extremely important at these plants.” 

Through the pellet development process, material is stored in various size bins and silos with access ladders for maintenance or adjustments. “The access ladders up to the silos and bins were very well structured and guarded,” notes Welton. The new Ministry of Labour training standard for working at heights may be applicable for pellet plants during the initial construction process. Initially voluntary, the training standard is expected to become mandatory for the construction sector in summer 2014, and may be expanded to other high risk sectors over the next few years.

As with any wood products operation, wood dust is always an issue, both in terms of air quality, and as a potential for explosion. Last year, WSN issued a hazard alert on combustible dust, which noted low humidity levels in winter months increase the risk of explosion and fire like the one that levelled a BC sawmill in 2012, injuring 20 and killing two workers.

“Working with this newer segment of the industry is excellent,” says Welton. “They’re conscientious and hardworking, and understand there’s a direct link between workplace health and safety and overall business health and productivity.”

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