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WorkSafe BC says dust level limits up to employers

07 February 2012

In response to questions over the January 20 explosion at Hampton Affiliates' Babine Forest Products mill near Burns Lake, British Columbia, WorkSafe BC has confirmed that its regulations governing combustible dust give no specific limits, leaving employers to decide what is safe from guidelines.

The January 20 blast at Babine Forest Products in British Columbia killed two men and injured 19 others
The January 20 blast at Babine Forest Products in British Columbia killed two men and injured 19 others

Investigators are now trying to piece together what triggered the blast that killed two men and injured 19 other workers. One line of inquiry will be the testimonies of safety inspectors, who had recorded unusually dry sawdust at the mill in recent months.

“There isn’t an agency that has a mandate to monitor airborne explosive limits. It’s the employers’ responsibility in the province of B.C. to ensure a healthy and safe workplace,” said Al Johnson, WorkSafe BC’s regional director. “As the regulator responsible to ensure compliance, if we believe they are not doing that then we’ll go in and evaluate … but it’s fairly infrequent that we do that.”

Mr. Johnson said enforcement is a subjective affair. “The regulation is performance-based. They are not allowed to let dust accumulate to a level that could cause combustibility.”

WorkSafe BC inspectors did measure air quality at the mill in November and concluded that workers were exposed to unsafe levels of dust in the air. The mill was ordered to remedy the problem by the end of January.

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