B.C. forest companies face new, prescriptive regulations that define how much sawdust can settle in a wood-products plant before it is considered a hazard, almost two years after the deaths of four workers in sawmill explosions. The new regime has been rolled out in the midst of a safety crackdown by WorkSafeBC inspectors on B.C. sawmills.
Sawdust has been identified as the key fuel that fed a massive fireball that flattened the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake in January, 2012, leaving two workers dead and another 20 seriously injured.
A report on the April, 2012, explosion at the Lakeland Mills plant in Prince George has not yet been made public, but that mill was also processing the super-dry, pine beetle-killed timber that was a major source of dust at Babine. Two workers died in that second explosion.
“This is just a different dust,” said James Gorman, president of the Council of Forest Industries, in an interview Monday. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has led to a race in B.C. Interior mills to process dead and dying wood before it loses its merchantable value.
Mr. Gorman said the new regulations from WorkSafeBC were shaped by industry-led safety reforms, and will be backstopped by a voluntary audit system that begins this month in a majority of Interior sawmills to ensure safety measures are being implemented.