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Inspection of B.C. sawmills reveals mixed results

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

WorkSafeBC has released a report on its recent three-month series of sawmill inspections across British Columbia. The report was released on March 4. The inspections found that while approximately 57 per cent of locations were in compliance with combustible dust regulations, the remaining mills had unacceptable dust accumulation levels.

The inspections, which ran from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, were part of WorkSafeBC’s combustible dust strategy, initiated in 2012. The objective was to evaluate compliance with combustible dust management requirements, and confirm that every sawmill had an effective and sustainable plan for the management of wood dust, the report said.

In particular, the inspections, conducted by a core team of 10 prevention officers accompanied by a local oh&s officer, focused on three key areas of risk:

* The management of combustible dust accumulations (fuel source);

* The design, installation and maintenance of dust collection, conveyance and ventilation systems (containment and dispersion, control of all risks); and

* The inspection and maintenance of equipment and ensuring that equipment was operated within manufacturers’ specifications (ignition source).

In total, WorkSafeBC undertook 249 inspections (including multiple inspections at the same location) at the 144 active sawmills in the province.

Eighty-three locations were in compliance at the time of inspection and received no orders related to combustible dust; many of those locations had dust control plans incorporating significant engineering controls to augment and mitigate the amount of manual dust cleanup required.

“Inspection results indicate that many sawmill operators have put significant efforts into improving the management and control of combustible dust, with a substantial number of employers found to be in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) combustible dust regulations,” the report read. “Over the past two years, many employers have invested in improved engineered controls in addition to manual dust cleanup efforts. It is apparent that in most mills demonstrating robust combustible dust programs, clean-up crews are utilized in support of effective dust collection at source and are not the primary control measure.”

Despite the improved efforts over the previous two years, 61 employers still received a total of 93 orders, the report noted, with the majority of the orders related to unacceptable levels of dust accumulations outside normal production areas such as basements, crawlspaces, overhead areas, areas hidden behind motor control centres or cabinets and outside areas. Eleven employers were issued a total of 13 stop-work orders due to unacceptable accumulations of secondary dust and other violations that posed an immediate hazard to the health and safety of workers. In most cases, the report said, the areas were cleaned the same day, allowing production to resume by the next shift.

WorkSafeBC communications officer Megan Johnston said that the regulator is currently planning the next phase of inspections in the combustible dust strategy. “We anticipate that it will include re-inspection of sawmills, and possibly of other wood products manufacturing sites, such as pellet plants and oriented strand board plants,” she said. “The next phase will also focus on those sawmills that were not in compliance during the last inspection phase.”

Johnston said that WorkSafeBC met with the Manufacturer’s Advisory Group, which represents sawmill industry employers, on March 6 to discuss the findings of the inspections and to get their input.

More information on the initiative and sawmill and wood processing safety can be found online at http://www.worksafebc.com/news_room/features/2012/sawmills/default.asp.