B.C.'s workplace safety watchdog says a three-month inspection blitz shows the forest industry is getting better at cleaning up potentially hazardous sawdust, but only 83 of the 144 locations inspected were in compliance with regulations.
Safety inspectors conducted 249 inspections in the last three months targeting combustible dust – a campaign that began with two deadly sawmill explosions in 2012.
In a report released Tuesday, WorkSafeBC concluded "many sawmill operators have put significant efforts into improving the management and control of combustible dust."
Yet 11 employers were issued a total of 13 stop-work orders during the three-month period "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 were cleaned the same day, allowing production to resume by the next shift.
Although the report does not identify which companies failed to comply with safety standards, inspection reports obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that some of the province's leading forest companies are among those now facing penalties for unsafe working conditions.
Here are some of the violations the inspectors found:
Sigurdson Forest Products Ltd., Williams Lake:
"The edger created a potential combustible dust cloud with an ignition hazard in the form of a bare, unprotected metal halide light bulb within the cloud. Dust accumulations were observed on interior building structure inside the sawmill where the product exited the edger.
"The mezzanine (roof over the mill lunch room) was observed with accumulations of combustible wood dust. The shavings bin conveyor belt and pulley drive was observed buried in secondary wood dust."
Tolko Industries, Williams Lake:
"Primary and secondary combustible dust has collected in several areas at this employer's location. The areas that require immediate attention [are] the chip screen area in the sawmill and blower room ceiling area in the planer building. The employer was directed to suspend production in the planer until the concentrations of combustible dust [are] safely removed from the blower room ceiling. The sawmill can operate if the combustible dust can be safely removed from the chip screen area."
Weyerhaeuser Company, Princeton:
"Excessive levels of both primary and secondary accumulations of combustible dust were found throughout the debarker/cutoff saw building, sawmill operating floor and sawmill basement.
"Primary accumulations of combustible dust were found built-up and in contact with potential ignitions sources such as conveyor tailspool or roller bearings or the accumulations had been allowed to persist and spread to other areas.
"Secondary accumulations of combustible dust exceeding 1/8" were observed on beams, rafters, equipment, light fixtures, cable trays, electrical MCC units (on top and inside), field transformers, electrical motors & gear reducers, and wall [braces] throughout the mill. The secondary accumulations were in excess of five per cent of the overall surface area of the debarker/cut-off saw area, the sawmill operating floor, and the sawmill basement."
Canfor Corp., Chetwynd:
"Several areas within the sawmill operating floor and basement were found to have combustible dust accumulations in excess of acceptable limits or were found in contact with potential ignition sources.
"Examples of inadequately maintained ventilation systems in the planer mill were noted that included bent and damaged piping, ill-fitting enclosures, duct tape at joints, compromised bonding connections.
"The employer has failed to ensure that regular and adequate inspections are made of process equipment or facilities to prevent the accumulation of combustible dusts."
Western Forest Products Inc., Chemainus:
"When the unacceptable accumulations of secondary dust under this locations planer crawl space [were] observed, this employer did not hesitate in shutting down production and initiating clean up.
"Unacceptable accumulations of fine secondary combustible dust was observed accumulated in a semi enclosed crawl space under this locations planer. The dust was present up to 1/2 inch accumulations in cable trays, up to 2.5 to 3 inches in depth under the vibrating conveyor and over 1/8th of an inch in depth on horizontal surfaces including the fire system piping and on the top of an electrical transformer. It is apparent that this location has not been cleaned for several months."