Three Incidents at Wood Product Plants in Less than a Month
Prince George, B.C.-May has not been a good month for wood product manufacturers in the north west. There have been three fires at three different locations, but the good news is , no one was hurt.
What is significant is that prior to the Lakeland inquest, such fires would not have to be reported to WorkSafe BC because there were no injuries. During the inquest into the Lakeland explosion and fire which claimed two lives, there was evidence presented that there had been a previous fire at that facility, but because there were no injuries the fire did not have to be reported. One of the recommendations from that inquest was that all such incidents be reported and that is just what is happening in the wake of three incidents in the northwest.
The first of the trio of events in the northwest happened May 10th in the drying kiln at Canfor’s Houston mill. Canfor advised WorkSafe BC that the fire started in the drying kiln, the fire department responded. “The kilns are stand alone structures, so they weren’t occupied by workers at the time” says WorkSafeBC spokesperson Scott McCloy. He says Canfor has been conducting its own investigation which has been directed by WorkSafeBC “I don’t believe we have any written orders ( as a result) at this time, orders will depend on what we find depending on the investigation by the employer and what the Officer sees when he goes on site.”
The second incident was at Houston Pellet on Saturday May 21st. There was a fire event at the pellet plant which is a joint venture of Pinnacle Pellet and Canfor. “It happened in one of the silos, there were no injuries in that. But as fire crews were dealing with the smoldering embers in the silos on the Monday morning ( the 23rd) there was a second event. They had been pouring water on it all weekend but something happened and a fire event and explosion occurred to the point it blew the abort gates on the silo open. So the equipment did what it is designed to do, so as a result there was no injury whatsoever.”
McCloy says there are two things happening in the case of the Houston Pellet incident “The employer is conducting its own investigation on what happened and how to prevent similar events in the future they proactively did that and are throwing a great deal of resources at it, but we also made the decision to conduct our own investigation into the incident and here’s why. The incident had the potential to cause serious harm so therefore it falls within our mandate to determine underlying factors.”
McCloy says WorkSafe is looking at what could have happened at the Houston Pellet Plant “All the equipment worked, the safety sensors worked, the abort gates worked, everything worked, but the concern is that the incident happened in the first place, I know the employer is concerned about that and so are we. So we want to get at what the root cause of this event was , and how it can be prevented in the future.”
The third incident occurred at Newpro , a particle board plant in Smithers. That plant has recently come back on board having been shut down since January of 2014.”We received a report on Monday afternoon that an incident (fire) had occurred on Saturday afternoon, again no injuries reported, no major equipment damage reported. The incident occurred in a conveyance system that moves product from one point to another in the mill.” McCloy says there has been no decision yet on whether there will be any orders written in the wake of that incident. Again, the sensor system worked, “That’s the good news, the concern we have is that there was an event and the Officer wants to find out why and has directed the employer to do that.”
Although some might call the Newpro incident minor, McCloy doesn’t see it that way “Any incident where there is a fire is potentially serious as far as we are concerned.”
It has been one year since a Coroners jury delivered 33 recommendations aimed at preventing the type of tragedy that occurred at Lakeland Mills on April 23rd 2012. The explosion and fire claimed the lives of Glen Roche and Alan Little and injured several others.
While the deaths were ruled accidental, the focus of the inquest was on combustible dust, the same issue that had claimed lives three months earlier when Hampton Affiliates’ Babine Forest Products mill erupted .
WorkSafe BC was the focus of nearly one third of the recommendations (9) and Al Johnson, Vice-President, Prevention Field Services says progress is being made “But we can’t let our guard down. I think the industry has come a long way, we have been pushing hard to work with the industry. They themselves have taken that and done a number of things. Progress is being made, but again, we need to ensure there is sustained compliance in the years to come.”
According to regulations, an excessive accumulation of wood dust means there is no more than 1/8th of an inch over 5% of a given work area.
WorkSafe’s Scott McCloy says inspections of pellet plants have resulted in dramatic improvements with 86% compliance last year with the combustible dust regulations.
One of the recommendations from the inquest called for a heavier emphasis on workers’ rights “that the worker has the right to refuse unsafe work”. The inquest heard testimony that workers had continued to perform their duties even though it was unsafe to do so. There has been little change on that front says Frank Everitt, President of the United Steelworkers Local 1-424 . He says workers remain hesitant to refuse work, “There is still a fear of repercussions such as disciplinary action, being overlooked for possible promotion, or job loss.”
There was also a recommendation that the City of Prince George conduct biannual emergency preparedness exercises. Such an exercise is scheduled for late June and will involve multiple agencies.