Inquest Hears About ‘Knowledge Gap’ On Combustible Dust
Prince George, BC – It has been a recurring statement at the Coroner’s Inquest examining the 2012 deadly explosion at Lakeland Mills – witnesses from sawmill employees to WorkSafeBC inspectors to local fire inspectors – have testified that while they knew dust was a fire hazard, they did not realize it was explosive.
Yesterday, testimony focused on this ‘knowledge gap’ and efforts underway to bridge it.
BC’s Fire Commissioner, Gordon Anderson, told the inquest that prior to the Lakeland blast, he had been aware, in general terms, that wood dust was explosive, but admitted there was a general lack of knowledge among Fire Services on how to identify when dust was approaching hazardous levels. (Anderson stepped into the role of Fire Commissioner in 2013, prior to that he had been Chief Training Officer and a local fire inspector with the Esquimalt Fire Department)
Pointing to earlier testimony from academic experts and a video produced by the US Chemical Safety Board that was “readily available online” before the explosion, BC Safety Authority, Nigel Trevethan, queried how this gap in knowledge persisted, when the dangers surrounding combustible dust have been known for decades.
Anderson said there have been a number of areas from a Fire Services’ perspective, including combustible dust, where knowledge doesn’t always ‘equate to getting down to the service level’. He said he can’t explain how or why it takes so long to devolve to the operational level.
Trevethan asked what steps the Office of the Fire Commissioner has taken to ensure its on the cutting edge of emerging trends in terms of hazards. Anderson said his office lacks the resources to put any kind of monitoring program in place, but he said the new Fire Inspection and Prevention Initiative (FIPI) program does fill that gap, reporting on any issues arising in the primary wood manufacturing industry.
Announced in 2012, FIPI is a two-year initiative funded by WorkSafe BC aimed educating both the industry and Fire Services on the hazards of combustible dust and improving Fire code compliance.
Gordon testified that through FIPI’s referral process, WorkSafeBC and BC Safety Authority inspectors now have ‘ready means’ to refer any Fire Code or Safety Act issues they notice during their inspections to the Office of the Fire Commissioner for follow up.