250 News - Your News, Your Views, Now

October 28, 2017 5:29 am

Lakeland Survivor Questions Cause of Blast

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 @ 1:19 PM

Prince George, B.C.-  You cannot convince Donald Zwozdesky that friction from a gear reducer sparked the Lakeland Mill explosion and fire.

An electrician on shift that fateful night in April 2012, he  has testified  at the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of Glenn Roche and Alan Little that experienced mill workers  learn  to recognize  certain odours.  He  compared   it being “kind of a dog”, that   you could recognize the  smell of an oil leak, smouldering fire,  mechanical  heat, and his nose didn’t give him any warning of an  issue.  “When there was a fire,  you didn’t go to the  spot  to help  out because you were asked,  you went  because you smelled it.” He said there were no telltale sounds of  mechanical  problems, no clinging, no vibration.

The WorkSafeBC investigation concluded the  cause of the explosion was a problem  in the gear reducer,  that a cooling fan  had  worked itself loose, travelled along the shaft until  it reached the end where it ground into a steel screen, all the while  the  shaft kept rotating, causing  frictional heat, igniting the airborne wood dust.

Zwozdesky says when he  heard the first explosion,  his first thought was that  a Motor Control Centre (MCC) panel had exploded.  He knew the panels  often had  a layer of fine  sawdust in them, and an  electrical arc could have easily provided the  spark.

He didn’t have time  to think too long about the problem, because  there was soon a second  explosion, which  would send him flying. He would survive the events of that night, but  would be left with an injury that has left his memory  foggy .

He was asked if, at the end of a shift, did he ever feel there was something he should have done before leaving. Zwozdesky  replied “I thank God I lived”.

Wayne Cleghorn is  also a survivor.  A 30 year employee, he was a slasher operator the night of the blast.  He was in the washroom in the basement when the first explosion happened “ It sounded  like someone had thrown gasoline on a fire, I heard a  loud whoof,  and then I felt the shockwave.”  He  left the washroom only to find he was in  complete darkness “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face”  walked into a beam, then stumbled and fell a few times, before  finding his way outside  through  a gap where a wall used to stand.

He  told how he had  gotten into  the back of a  suburban  vehicle, where there was a burn victim on a backboard.  A paramedic asked him to help put the oxygen mask on the unrecognizable injured man, who he would learn was Glenn Roche.  When they got to the hospital,  Glenn turned to Cleghorn and said, “Wayne, I’m dying here, I’m dying”.

Cleghorn says the conditions in the mill are  different now. The new  facility  has a dust collection system that will trigger the entire mill to shut down if that  dust collection system is not working properly. Simply put,  if the baghouse isn’t operating,  the mill cannot  operate.

He suggested the jury consider a recommendation that sawmills have more  clean up people, and that if  workers  spot any issue, that it not be ignored.


I remember the first time I heard the phrase “we must be competitive globally” my pro-union father said “which means, we bring everyone to the lowest standard.”

And this is where we’re headed.

My brother is still involved in heavy construction, and he tells me the standards are frightening compared to decades ago. So much so, he’s glad he’s near retirement.

But every employee, management and worker, have the same concern – how do I keep my job. No manager wakes up and says, let’s cut corners so someone dies. Instead, he wakes up and says, what do we have to do to be able to make our product at a price we can sell it at, knowing there is someone in China/Russia/Mexico, making a similar product. And to add insult to injury, those countries, have even worse safety and health standards than us.

But the market doesn’t care about that, it cares only about price. So it gives us a choice, work at these standards, or don’t work at all.

There use to be a system of tariffs that punished countries for poor safety records, or unfair competitive advantages, but something called free trade has managed to pretty much scuttle that.

It’s tragic what happened here, it’s also tragic that the same thing is happening in other parts of the world, to a greater degree, and there is no inquiry to ask why.

You got that right Ski. Free trade will make a third world country out of Canada unless some one has the balls to intervene. All our manufacturing has left our country all we have is trees, oil and coal.

ski,Can you give me one example of work that your brother did decades ago that would be unsafe in todays industry? You should get yourself a Worksafe standards book and have alook at what has changed in the past ten years.

My husband once told me how he literally waded waist deep in the sawdust at one of the sawmills west of here. “WorksafeBC” – my a##!!

tired – not sure I understand the question. Years ago were safer than now – at least, that’s what I meant to say. I was in industry myself years ago, we had strong safety committees, if something was unsafe, we weren’t afraid to speak up, and in a couple of cases shut down the job. When I say the standards are frightening, I meant in a bad way.

But, actually, as I think about it, there are lots of standards, rules and regulations now, maybe even more than there was in the 80s and 90s. The difference, is even a unionized ironworker doesn’t feel comfortable complaining because he knows he won’t be asked to the next job if he’s too vocal. But in the 80s and 90s it was mostly unionized construction – and the unions were quite strong. Now, not so much.

So I think the correct way to phrase it – is the standards are probably even higher now – just not vigorously enforced and workers really have no one to protect them if they speak up, vs the 80s and 90s – even if they do belong to a union.

The source of ignition, be it a loose fan or an arc in a mcc is not really relevant as the root cause is the same in either case and that is an employee using an air hose to blow off a piece of machinery. This put the fine dust in a high enough concentration to create the initial blast when it met the point of ignition.

The accident happened at the end of a break so any fine dust created from mill operation would have pretty much settled and not be a factor.

A dust explosion is more often than not a series of explosions in rapid sucession and increasing intensity as this fine dust is shook loose from every nook and cranny and becoming airborne. The testimony of the electrician seems to confirn this as he said he was knocked down by a second blast.

The shop steward testified that it was standard practice to use an air hose to do clean up. Using this clean up method is wrong for a number of reasons the main one being that when blasted with air the coarse material will quickly fall to the floor where it can be swept up but the flour like material will remain suspended in the air long after the clean up guy has moved on. It will eventually settle back where it started or on the web of an i beam or on a purlin creating a huge hazard.

If one of the main recommendation coming out of the inquest is not to end the practice of using compessed air to do clean up and chopping up almost every airwand then the whole thing will be a massive fail imo.

The area where the “spark” ignited was no where near where Glenn or other operators were blowing down. Spark on the ground level floor, Glenn and operators up on mezanine floor.

Complete different area of the mill. Explosion occurred under slasher, no one blowing there on breaks. Dust there is from production. So bad during operation that most people held there breath walking through. Takes a good 20 minutes to settle. Ask someone who worked in the sawmill.

There was a wall and a floor between Glen and the spark. No way it could have been his actions.

Looking back now it’s evident not to do such things. But before this it was common practice and no one thought any different about blowing down.

The local paper had a quote attributed to Glen shortly after the explosion saying that he was just blowing down and the fn thing blew up. No blame his way as air hose use was standard practice, what I am saying it is one that should be abolished.

If the dust concentration was at critical levels during prodiction you would think that when saw broke and caused a shower of sparks when contacting metal(reported here earlier)it would have caused more than a fire in a sawdust pile.

Then there is maintenance and breakdown repairs. I am sure that hot work like cutting, grinding and welding took place on a regular basis when the mill was running and during breaks. Wetting down the area and having charged hose at the ready were most likely the precautions taken, doubt air quality measured before proceeding.

I shutter to think that in order keep mills clean and in compliance that the mills are still doing blow downs with compressed air.

ski51 and Retired 02, you both criticize our current economic situation with free trade, but before you do, perhaps you should take a broader look at our situation.

Our unions have driven up labour costs to the point where in many cases our labour costs have priced us out of the market. We have union workers earning extremely good wages when they work, but they are not working because they are no longer cost competitive!

So, it seems that you can’t have your cake and eat it to! You want high wages, but what good are they if you can’t get work because you are unaffordable!

Cost competitiveness is like a balancing act and it would seem that in many cases, we have tipped the scales too far. Perhaps we need to move back to a more balanced economy.

That’s extremely unlikely though! Our unionized workers expect, nay dare I say they demand top level wages, yet they shop at WalMart in order to spend as little of their money as possible!

Shop locally!! Wait a minute, we can’t do that because our locally produced goods are too expensive!!

Seems like you can’t have it both ways!!

As far as the inquest is concerned, I honestly don’t believe that it will provide definitive answers, at least to the degree that will be required in order to provide peace and comfort to the families that lost loved ones! Sadly, I’m not so sure that will ever be possible.

However, I do hope that changes already put in place along with any further changes that might arise from the enquiry will help prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future!

If we learn anything, I hope that we learn something!!

Ski50, you are more correct in that the standards are higher, just not enforced more vigorously. I worked in the forest industry for 21 years, in the beginning safety ( in the way I know it now) was a joke, as the years went by the company I worked for, which was Lakeland’s sister company in PG, got more serious about safety mostly because WCB was coming down hard on infractions, ie; the concern had more to do with insurance premiums than worker well being. Fast forward a few years & the company I work for now. At the moment our company is experiencing a production slowdown as our management is quite concerned that certain process conditions, if not corrected could lead to some scary & dangerous conditions. Rather than risk worker safety, management is willing to forego production. I wish years ago I could have said the same for the forest industry. Sad that workers lost their lives & families lost loved ones all in the name of production & a few measly dollars.


You got it ice, to solve the issue put the NDP back in and we can shut all the mills down and solve the problem – can’t explode if you are not cutting wood.

Comments for this article are closed.