BCSA releases recommendations on sawmill fire safety

Just days before the January 20 anniversary of last year’s fatal Burns Lake mill explosion and fire, the BC Safety Authority (BCSA) today released nine ...

Just days before the January 20 anniversary of last year’s fatal Burns Lake mill explosion and fire, the BC Safety Authority (BCSA) today released nine sawmill safety recommendations following its investigation into the incident.

The fire at the Babine Forest Products mill killed two workers in the mill and injured 20 more. A WorkSafeBC report compiled a month before the fire wrote up the mill for excessive sawdust.

The BCSA investigated the incident to assess the installation and operation of equipment at the mill, to determine whether equipment or work practices at the mill contributed to the fire.

Greg Paddon, BCSA director of technical programs, said, “Our aim was to conduct a thorough investigation and learn all we could to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. Now we can use that knowledge to initiate improvements toward the management of safety risks.”

The first three recommendations are aimed at wood processing facility owners and operators, and discuss:

  • identifying hazardous locations in accordance with industry standards;
  • documenting a safety plan for hazardous locations; and
  • incorporating hazards into the fire safety plan.

The next three are addressed to the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner, and discuss:

  • publishing a list of experts in wood dust combustion;
  • identifying fire and explosion prevention guidance to be used in B.C.; and
  • adding the above to the Fire Safety Plan requirements of the BC Fire Code.

The last three are to the Canadian Standards Association, and recommend:

  • identifying wood dust as a combustible dust in the Canadian Electrical Code;
  • improving co-ordination between that code and other fire and explosion prevention standards; and
  • improving natural gas and propane code requirements relating to hazardous locations identification.

The BCSA has issued two safety orders for wood processing facilities and a third has been drafted has been drafted and an industry consultation begins immediately. The group has also issued four compliance orders related to this incident and is drafting an information bulletin to be distributed before the end of the month.

The BSCA said it would not be releasing the full investigation report yet, to “avoid compromising Crown Counsel’s review of a referral from WorkSafeBC.”

Catherine Roome, BCSA president and CEO, said, “We have chosen this approach because it balances our respect for that process with our responsibility for promoting safety.”

The sawmill is set to be rebuilt, despite a legal case hanging over the head of U.S. company Hampton Affiliates, which owns the mill.



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