OHS Canada Magazine

News

Reconstruction begins on destroyed B.C. sawmill

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

Nearly 15 months after an explosion that destroyed a sawmill and killed two of its employees, Sinclar Group Forest Products, the company that owned the mill, has begun construction on its replacement.

Loader operator Ed Langan, a 40-year Sinclar employee, kicked off the reconstruction of the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, British Columbia on July 22 with a ceremonial laying of sod in front of a group of workers. As the previous mill did, the new one will produce stud lumber or pre-cut lumber designed for the construction of new homes.

The new Lakeland Mills facility is expected to be in full operation with 100 hired workers by the end of summer 2014, according to Sinclar’s president, Greg Stewart.

The original mill, built in the 1980s, was destroyed by an explosion and fire on April 23, 2012. Two workers, Al Little and Glenn Roche, died in the accident, while 22 others were injured. It is suspected that accumulated wood dust caused the explosion and fire.

“Obviously, there’s going to be more focus on dust mitigation and methane mitigation onsite,” Stewart said, referring to the rebuilding plans. “So we’re putting in appropriate technology to help us with that.

“Whenever you have a mill the age of Lakeland, you don’t have access to the same pieces of equipment that were there previously,” he added. “Technology has evolved. The new mill may be very similar to what it was before, but it will incorporate the technology advances that have occurred.”

The Lakeland Mills disaster was the second such mill explosion within the province in just over three months. In January 2012, the Babine Forest Products Mill in Burns Lake burned down in a similar explosion, which also led to two deaths, as well as 19 injuries. Reconstruction of the Babine mill began in May 2013.

WorkSafeBC requested a review of both mill accidents in November to determine whether the companies or any individuals could be charged for any Workers Compensation Act violations. According to Megan Johnston, WorkSafeBC’s communications officer for media and government relations, the referral is still in progress.

“There has been no decision made at this point,” Johnston said.

WorkSafeBC also initiated a combustible-dust strategy in April 2012. The safety regulator issued a directive order that month to all 173 of B.C.’s sawmills to conduct full assessments and reviews focusing on wood-dust hazards. Since then, the agency has recommended that wood dust be classified as combustible.

In January, the BC Safety Authority (BCSA) completed a 100-page report on the accidents for the provincial government, targeting the hazards of dust build-up. But only a 10-page version, focusing on the Babine disaster, has been released to the public to date.

“We made public nine recommendations coming out of the first incident,” explained Quinn Newcomb, a media representative for BCSA. “And we’ve developed a larger investigative report on both incidents, but those reports have not been made public yet, because our Crown counsel is looking into possible charges. They’ve asked us not to make the report public, because that could interfere with their investigation.”

But the British Columbia NDP isn’t satisfied. The party has been calling for the release of the entire report.

“It’s worrying that not all the information has been shared,” said Norm Macdonald, B.C.’s opposition critic for forests, lands and natural resource operations. “We’ve been told there’s information there that’s important to share. The government has to play its role in being as rigorous as possible with safety.

“The obligation has to be not only to have as much information as possible in the public realm, but to disperse it actively so that all the people responsible for safety are privy to that information,” Macdonald said. “These were two real tragedies that had an impact not only on the families of those that were hurt or killed, but on the whole community.”

When completed, the new Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George is expected to have a capacity of about 200 million board feet. It will be integrated with the existing planar mill, which is still operational.