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October 27, 2017 10:42 pm

Three Incidents at Wood Product Plants in Less than a Month

Thursday, May 26, 2016 @ 6:00 AM

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.





Job repercussions for refusing due to unsafe work is very real. Oftentimes it comes down to a battle of wills and the Boss holds all the cards. 99% of the time nothing bad happens and people always think nothing bad will happen to them anyway so they risk their lives because the actual risk is rather low.

Then you have those workers who just don’t care about safety and feel that they can do it all. Those folks are just accidents waiting to happen…

refusing to work when the employer holds all the cards and relying on worksafe bc “to have your back”…well get you to the soup line quicker than one can say lickety split.Thats a fact.

I would assume the wood was a bit greener than it should have been causing the fermentation process, which rose the temperature past the self combustion rate. Thus inside this silo is a huge ball of smouldering biomass.

fire fighter has to deal with this all the time in the bush in abandoned sawmill sites with huge piles of sawdust.

They poured water onto it. The water got to the smouldering fire ball, which created steam pressure to the crust, to the point that it released the pressure, by busting thru the crust, and it blew out the relief vents.

Look at all the money I saved Canfor and Worksafe, send check to the red shirt association.

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