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Canadian sawmill owner fined C$724,000 over fatal 2012 dust explosion

30 July 2014

The company that owns the British Columbia sawmill where two workers were killed and 22 others injured in an explosion and fire has been ordered by WorkSafeBC to pay more than $724,000 in penalties and levies. The April 23, 2012 blaze at Lakeland Mills in Prince George followed a similar deadly explosion only months earlier at the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C.

The province's Criminal Justice Branch announced earlier this year it would not lay charges against either of the companies in the mill blasts because it feared the evidence collected would not be admissible in court.

But WorkSafeBC said on July 30 that Lakeland Mills breached the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and ordered it to pay a $97,500 administrative penalty and a $626,663 claims-cost levy for violating the act and the regulations.

"The dollar value of a penalty or claims cost levy does not and cannot reflect the loss of lives and the pain and suffering of workers and families," the agency said on its website, adding the company has the right to appeal and review the penalties.

The order follows a similar $1-million ruling in April by WorkSafeBC against Hampton Affiliates, the owners of the Babine mill.

Lakeland Mills president Greg Stewart said: "It will take some time to review the information. Only then will we be in a position to respond to WorkSafeBC's allegations."

A WorkSafeBC investigation found the mill's northeast corner exploded outward. A few seconds later another section, known as the bag house, erupted in flames. The explosion travelled east to west through the mill's operating level, destroying the mill, killing and injuring the workers.

All the evidence indicated wood dust was dispersed throughout the mill and in a high-enough concentration to explode, according to the WorkSafeBC report, which was issued in May.
The report noted the primary explosion occurred an area of about three-square metres which was surrounded by a conveyor, steel-plated ceiling and exterior wall.

The report described the important relationship between containment and a fuel-like wood dust.

"If these components are contained and ignition occurs, the pressure develops to a degree that typically is violent and destructive," it stated.

The friction that ignited the blaze was caused when a piece of equipment known as a gear-reducer cooling fan failed, and a rotating shaft generated friction, heat and a temperature of 577 degrees Celsius, the report added. As a result, the airborne dust burned away in the containment zone during the primary explosion and the secondary explosions, and fire levelled the mill.

The report also cited other underlying factors including:
* A lack of a dust-collection system and ineffective dust-control measures, as well as ineffective maintenance and inspection of the gear reducers.
* The configuration of the waste conveyor increased airborne wood dust.
* Weather conditions resulted in a very dry environment with low humidity, which was compounded by the very dry beetle-killed wood. The dusts produced were drier, finer and migrated throughout the mill.

The report also cited inadequate supervision of clean-up and maintenance staff.
The agency said it has ordered every British Columbia sawmill to assess the risks and hazards of combustible dust and implement effective dust-control programs.

Followup inspections have been ordered by WorkSafeBC at other sawmills and wood-processing operations, and the agency has ordered hazard alerts for gear reducers and wintertime conditions when there are increased risks.
 


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