Ontario sawmills can learn from BC inspections

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Combustible dust build-up ongoing safety concern noted by WorkSafeBC inspectors

The build-up of combustible wood dust in sawmills is an ongoing safety concern and was the focus of a recent three-month inspection blitz from November 1, 2013 to January 31, 2014 in British Columbia.

Hazard Alert: Increased risk of dust explosion in winter

WorkSafeBC inspection results indicated that many sawmill operators have put significant efforts into improving the management and control of combustible dust, with a substantial number of employers found to be in compliance with regulations, however, not all employers were found to be compliant.

Businesses should be aware of potential concerns, some listed in a Globe and Mail article, which should be part of their regular inspections; as well as the importance of the “Fire Inspection and Prevention Initiative” section of the WorkSafeBC report. This is a high priority in Ontario workplaces as a means to reduce the potential of a wood dust outage.

WorkSafeBC inspection highlights

  • 83 of the 144 locations inspected were in compliance at the time of inspection and received no orders related to combustible dust. Many of these locations had dust control plans incorporating significant engineering controls to augment and mitigate the amount of manual dust cleanup required.

  • 61 employers were issued a total of 93 orders related to combustible dust. Most of these were for unacceptable levels of dust accumulations outside normal production areas; i.e. basements, crawl spaces, overhead areas, areas hidden behind motor control centres or cabinets, and outside areas.

  • 11 employers were issued a total of 13 stop-work orders due to unacceptable accumulations of secondary dust and other significant violations, which posed an immediate hazard to the health and safety of workers. In most cases, the areas noted were cleaned the same day, allowing production to resume by the next shift. These locations are subject to frequent ongoing inspections to ensure compliance is maintained while mill operators address the challenges noted.

  • Two locations inspected during the initiative received a second stop-work order and have been directed to participate in a closely monitored compliance plan that includes weekly submissions to prevention officers regarding their dust management process. Officers are inspecting these locations at an increased frequency during this monitored phase to ensure the workplaces remain in compliance with WorkSafeBC requirements and expectations.

  • 17 warning letters were recommended during this inspection phase to advise employers that an administrative penalty may be considered for further similar violations of the regulations and three administrative penalties were recommended for violations of the regulations. Warning letters and penalties are tools used by officers, as necessary, to motivate certain employers to comply with the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. The application of either sanction process is dependent on several factors, including the level of risk related to combustible dust violations and the motivation required of the employer.

WSN follows this topic with interest and will continue to provide ongoing updates to health and safety developments in BC, as well as general industry best practices.

Free Resources

WorkSafeBC Project Summary Report 

Hazard Alert: Combustible dust hazard alert: Increased risk of dust explosion in winter

Wood Dust in Sawmills: Compilation of Industry Best Practices

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

Report: Babine Forest Products - Explosion and Fire - Recommendations

For more information, please contact your WSN consultant-trainer.