Ontario Sawmills: Explosions and fires can, and have, happened here

Friday, April 27, 2012

Two catastrophic fires at sawmills in B.C. have occurred in the last three months. Early reports suggest dust and dust collection systems had an impact on these incidents.

In January, the Burns Lake sawmill exploded, fatally injuring two workers. This week, a devastating fire tore through Lakeland Mills. The fire at Lakeland Mills has claimed two lives and several more employees are currently listed in critical condition at Vancouver hospitals.

Sawmill fires have also occurred in Ontario. In 2005, an Ontario sawmill had a dust explosion occur at their sawmill’s baghouse. The Ministry of Labour determined the fire had started on a planer machine and was put out, but a spark somehow travelled to the baghouse through the dust collection system. The fire resulted in burns to two employees.

Following a trial, the firm was fined $80,000 and found guilty of:

1. failing to take reasonable precautions to protect the two workers' health and safety by failing to ensure there was a spark detection or spark suppression system in the dust collection system between the planer and bag house; and failing to ensure the workers were not working at or near the baghouse's blast doors. This was contrary to Section 25(2)(h) of the act; and

2. failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to the two workers to protect their health and safety in dealing with a possible explosion in the baghouse. This was contrary to Section 25(2)(a) of the act.

In response to these incidents, WSN staff will continue to work with our sawmill clients in encouraging each firm to place a higher level of preventive maintenance, based on manufacturer specifications, in regards to dust collection systems. Currently, Worksafe BC is focusing on improved preventative maintenance relating to dust collection systems, and their enforcement branch is blitzing sawmills in the province of B.C.