Major B.C. forest companies named in stop-work orders
Sawmills cited for wood-dust buildup in WorkSafeBC inspections
BY GORDON HOEKSTRA, VANCOUVER SUN MARCH 3, 2014
S & R Sawmills in Surrey was one of the plants issued with a stop-work order during a recent WorkSafeBC safety blitz.
Photograph by: NICK PROCAYLO , Vancouver Sun
Some of B.C.’s biggest forest companies continued to violate wood dust safety rules at their sawmills this winter, two years after a pair of deadly wood-dust fuelled explosions.
Canfor, Tolko, Weyerhaeuser and Western Forest Products were among a list of 11 companies ordered to shut down portions of their sawmills because of excessive wood dust accumulations considered a risk for fire or explosion.
WorkSafeBC issued 13 stop-work orders during inspections between November 2013 and January 2014, according to WorkSafeBC inspection reports obtained by The Vancouver Sun through a freedom-of-information request.
In some cases, WorkSafeBC considered the circumstances so serious there are grounds for monetary penalties, the documents state.
The excessive wood-dust accumulations took place despite widespread attention to the two deadly explosions at sawmills in northern B.C., increased enforcement by safety agencies and promises by industry to invest in cleanup crews, equipment and internal audits.
Soon after the explosions, WorkSafeBC started an inspection blitz to check for dust. During followup inspections a year after the explosions, WorkSafeBC found 20 per cent of 150 sawmills inspected had dangerous dust levels. The agency issued warnings and cleanup orders to them all.
Despite the warnings, problems are still being found today.
Just recently, the Crown rejected charges in the first explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, which raised the ire of workers and their families.
Workers and families in Prince George are bracing for a similar Crown decision, which is due by April 22 in the Lakeland Mills explosion.
Both explosions killed two workers and injured dozens of others, some with severe burns.
During the latest round of inspections, two stop-work orders were also issued to Sigurdson Forest Products (Williams Lake), and single orders to S & R Sawmills (Surrey), Galloway Lumber (near Fernie), Vaagen Fibre (Midway), Hunky Dory Sawmills (Houston) and Skeena Sawmills (Terrace).
United Steelworkers western director Steve Hunt said unfortunately he is not surprised by the continuing non-compliance.
Tougher regulations need to be introduced that allow any worker with safety concerns to shut down an area of a mill because of unsafe dust levels, and make it mandatory for companies to install dust-control equipment, he said.
“When it comes to protecting the lives of workers, (WorkSafeBC) can’t get there,” said Hunt.
WorkSafeBC’s strategy of using inspection blitzes to get companies to keep their mills clear of dust is not working, added Hunt.
That’s because it’s like a speed-trap, where motorists speed up as soon at the police are gone, he said.
WorkSafeBC officials were not available for comment Monday.
Forestry giant Weyerhaeuser was issued a stop work order on Nov. 19, 2013 for its Princeton sawmill.
Excessive levels of wood dust were found throughout the debarker and cutoff saw building, sawmill operating floor and sawmill basement.
The company was ordered to immediately stop all work in these mill areas.
“The board (WorkSafeBC) has reasonable grounds for believing the condition described above presents an immediate danger that would likely result in serious injury, serious illness, or death to a workers,” WorkSafeBC officer Ken Blair said in his inspection report.
Weyerhaeuser spokesman Wayne Roznowsky said they complied immediately with the stop-work order and cleanup, bringing in a vacuum truck from Kamloops, which put the mill down for 38 hours.
“The key is for us, you don’t want anything to happen. We thought we were compliant in the areas that needed to be. We were told we weren’t. We fixed it,” he said.
Roznowsky noted that because the debarker and cutoff saw area has no walls, they didn’t believe it was an explosion hazard area.
Roznowsky said they are waiting for a final report from a dust control and mitigation expert they hired before making any decisions on process or equipment changes.
Canfor, one of B.C.’s largest lumber producers, was ordered to immediately shut down several areas of its operating floor and the basement of its sawmill in Chetwynd on Nov. 7.
It immediately complied and cleaned up the area before the inspector left.
Portions of Tolko’s sawmills in Williams Lake (Nov. 27) and Soda Creek (Nov. 6) were also ordered shut down because of wood dust levels.
Western Forest Products’ mills were also cited for dust accumulation and issued stop-work orders at their value-added operations in Chemainus on Vancouver Island.
On Dec. 4, a WorkSafeBC inspection found unacceptable accumulations of fine secondary dust at one of its locations in a semi-enclosed crawl space under a planer.
There was dust of 2.5 to three inches under a conveyor and on horizontal surfaces including piping and the top of an electrical transformer.
“It is apparent that this location has not been cleaned for several months,” said the inspection report.