Group representing 55 sawmills, 75% of British Columbia's lumber production, completes wood dust audit standard, expects to begin audits by year-end, shares program with Alberta at no cost to encourage other sawmills to adopt tool
VANCOUVER, British Columbia
July 19, 2013
– B.C.'s major forest companies have completed the creation of a wood dust audit standard they promised last year after two deadly sawmill explosions.
The audits, expected to begin before the end of the year, are meant to increase safety at sawmills. Wood dust was cited by WorkSafeBC as the source of the two explosions in northern B.C. that killed four workers and injured dozens of others.
A group representing 10 major companies with about 75 per cent of the province's lumber production and 55 large sawmills say their audits will be conducted independently by firms such as KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers and possibly insurance companies. The accounting firms already have experience conducting audits in areas such as sustainable forestry practices. The audit program - spearheaded by companies such as Canfor, West Fraser, Tolko and Interfor - is being shared widely at no cost in B.C. and Alberta in the hope other mills will adopt the tool.
Ken Higginbotham, a spokesman for the forest industry group, said the audits could form the basis for an annual safety plan for housekeeping of wood dust.
"None of these (company) people want (workers) to be hurt or killed," says Higginbotham, a former Canfor executive.
"There is no question that there's probably an economic potential impact from an insurance perspective and others," he said. "But I think there is this genuine view that the audit standard can be a tool to help them evaluate whether or not the actions they are taking in the mill are being effective in reducing sawmill dust risk."
The audits will include an examination of the safety inspection history at the mill, as well as a review of any incidents involving dust, including fires.
The sawmill will be inspected and interviews will be conducted to assess the effectiveness of dust control. The auditor will immediately provide an overview of the inspection findings.
That will be followed by a report within a month that will indicate whether the mill dustcontrol programs, training and communication, hazard assessment and controls are doing the job or need work. The audits are voluntary and have no force under provincial laws.
Other major companies involved in the creation of the audit standard were Western Forest, Sinclar Group, Hampton Affiliates, Weyerhaeuser, Conifex and Dunkley.
Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC's vice-president of prevention, noted the audits do not replace the safety agency's regulations and a positive audit does not denote compliance.
However, Johnson said WorkSafeBC is supportive of the audit as another safety and education tool.
"It offers a process of checks and balances to verify what's in place and what was done," he noted.
Just days after a second deadly explosion at Lakeland Mills in Prince George in April last year, WorkSafeBC had ordered companies to ensure their mills were clean of combustible dust. An earlier deadly explosion had taken place in January at Babine Forest Products near Burns Lake.
Many companies have put dust housekeeping plans in place, increased staff on cleaning shifts and invested money in new dust-control equipment.
West Fraser, Conifex, Interfor and Hampton Affiliates are spending more than $12 million in total on equipment upgrades.
However, a Vancouver Sun story published last week revealed WorkSafeBC reinspections conducted last fall and spring found about 20 per cent of the province's 150 sawmills were cited for wood dust accumulations that posed a risk of fire or explosion.
United Steelworkers local-1-424 president Frank Everitt said he was both surprised and concerned by the findings.
Everitt, whose union represented workers in both mills that exploded, said the industry safety audit standard released this week is a good tool, but not a cure-all. He said the safety effort also needs oversight from WorkSafeBC, fire departments and the B.C. Safety Authority, which has responsibility for industrial equipment.
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