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The Globe and Mail

B.C. government orders 'top-to-bottom' inspection at sawmills

A large fire burns at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, B.C., on Tuesday April 24, 2012. An explosion rocked the sawmill just before 10 p.m. local time setting off a fire that engulfed the facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Johnson

ANDREW JOHNSON/Andrew Johnson/The Canadian Press

The provincial government has ordered B.C. sawmills to review sawdust buildup in their mills as part of a comprehensive safety inspection, after the second explosion of a northern sawmill in three months.

Sawmills must conduct "top-to-bottom" safety inspections, B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said

Investigators have been looking into the possibility that elevated dust levels arising from the cutting of dry, pine beetle-ravaged wood could have been a factor in the explosion of the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake last January. Two workers died.

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Monday night, the Lakeland Mills in Prince George exploded in a similar fireball, killing one employee and sending others to hospital with serious burns.

At the time of the Burns Lake explosion, those with many years experience in the woods industry said they could not recall a similar incident, where a mill basically blew up in a fireball. Now there have been two such explosions .

Although there are no immediate answers about the cause of the explosion at Lakeland Mills or at the Babine Lake mill, Ms. MacDiarmid said she is not prepared to wait for the investigators to reach their conclusions - a process that could take several more months.

"That will take some time we know, but there is a common factor here, we are all aware of it: It's sawdust," she told reporters in Victoria.

"Although we don't know what caused the original fires or explosions, we know that sawdust may be a factor."

Ms. MacDiarmid, the minister responsible for WorkSafe BC, will meet with representatives for mill workers and for the companies on Thursday to talk about a safety strategy.

In the meantime, WorkSafe BC is issuing an order now to ensure that all B.C. sawmills are meeting current safety policies.

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Ms. MacDiarmid said they will have to look in particular at sawdust - however there is no safety regulation that specifies how to manage sawdust accumulations as a potential combustible material.

"There isn't an actual policy around it at this point," she acknowledged.

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B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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