Province’s mills to be inspected

Mission's mills will also be carefully scrutinized for dust accumulations

B.C. sawmills, including Mission’s, will be inspected for sawdust levels following a mill explosion and fire in Prince George April 23.

While the focus has been sharpened for those processing dry pine beetle-killed logs in Interior mills, cedar mills have the same, if not a worse, potential for explosions, stated a forestry industry safety expert.

“This is going to have an enormous impact,” said Dennis W. Clark. “Cedar produces a very fine combustible dust. The risk is real.”

Clark said dust accumulations are common in almost any mill, and companies have to make a concerted effort to reduce the build-up on exposed roof trusses, and other areas.

“There’s no question in my mind that this is going to have an impact on [mill] owners,” he continued.

Waldun Forest Products’ Kirk Nagy, one of the owners, said dust build-up is “definitely an issue,” but in his mill, which is Safety Accord Forestry Enterprise (SAFE) Company Certified, regular cleanings are part of the routine, so the WorkSafe order is “more of a reminder.”

The B.C. Foresty Safety Council created the certification to help companies improve their safety performance and to evaluate company safety programs.

“There are some mills in our industry that should be cleaned up,” said Nagy.

Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said, “There is a common factor here, and we’re all aware of it, and it’s sawdust. So although we don’t know what caused the initial fires or explosions, we know that sawdust may be a factor.”

MacDiarmid said WorkSafeBC does not have a specific policy for dust control in mills. A meeting was being convened yesterday, after The Record’s press deadline, with government, WorkSafeBC, industry and union representatives to determine their next steps.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed one of 25 mill employees on site died after an explosion rocked the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George last week. The explosion and fire occurred suddenly on night shift, similar to the Jan. 20 explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake that killed two workers and destroyed the mill.

– with files from Tom Fletcher