Inquest Queries Managers on Clean Up and Safety
Prince George, B.C. – The Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Glenn Roche and Alan Little has shifted its focus from the events of the night of the explosion and follow-up investigation, to the managers who had input on the day to day safety practices and procedures.The WorkSafeBC investigation into the explosion concluded it had been sparked when the shaft of a jammed cooling fan on a gear reducer, overheated as it continued rotating, causing friction . The gear reducer was in an area where there was a significant amount of wood dust.
The Fire Prevention Officer’s inspections over an 18 month period, repeatedly cited Lakeland for failing to have a Fire Safety Plan, and called upon the mill to develop policies and procedures for dust clean up and removal.
Maintenance Superintendent Garth Turner testified Fire Prevention Officer Steve Feeney wasn’t always that helpful. He said that while fire inspection reports noted the same deficiencies over and over, that didn’t mean things hadn’t been done to correct the deficiencies in the first place. “For example he (Feeney) said we needed to cover the portable fire extinguishers, so we went out and bought 50 bags and covered all the fire extinguishers. Then, he comes back and he sees one that isn’t covered and we got written up again.” Turner said the same kind of scenario happened with the deficiency of signage for fire hydrants. He says the mill tried to correct the deficiency by placing 4’x4′ signs noting the hydrant locations, but when the re-inspection happened, they were cited again on that issue because the signs weren’t high enough.
One of the items that appeared on each fire inspection report was the lack of a Fire Safety Plan. Turner said he was advised by the Fire Prevention Officer that developing such a plan would take a couple of years. Although the Fire Prevention Officer pointed Turner in the direction of the Fire Code’s requirements for such a plan, Turner says he didn’t have access to a Fire Code to find out the details, and when he requested a copy of that section of the Code, was told that could not be done because of copyright issues. (The new mill has submitted a Fire Safety Plan, but it has yet to be approved by Prince George Fire Safety)
A long time worker in the forest industry, Turner said he was aware that wood dust was a fire hazard, but did not know that given the right conditions, it could also be explosive.
Turner said that while building a culture of safety at the mill has “always been our intent” and there was a Safety Committee, it was difficult to get members to attend Safety Committee meetings. On at least one occasion a meeting had to be cancelled because of a lack of participants.
A recurring theme at this inquest is the question, who is responsible for clean up? Photo after photo depicts a worksite where everything was covered in dust, including the sprinkler system overhead. Turner testified he believed everyone in the mill had a responsibility to keep their work area clean, but Lakeland Counsel posed the question, “If it’s everybody’s responsibility, is there not a possibility the responsibility becomes diluted and it becomes no one’s job?”
When asked if having a clean up policy would be helpful to streamline the responsibility, Turner replied with a simple “Yes.”
The Inquest continues.