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Sawmill was closed to clean up sawdust

Skeena Sawmills was temporarily shut down late last year after a WorkSafe BC safety audit found high levels of combustible sawdust at the location.

The stop work order, issued Dec. 19, 2013, was lifted the following day after a clean up took place.

WorkSafe BC inspectors visited the mill as part of a province-wide review of mill safety following explosions at sawmills in Burns Lake and in Prince George in 2012.

Two workers were killed at each location and both facilities were destroyed by fire.

A WorkSafe BC report states that inspectors issued the stop work order after finding a build-up of sawdust at the east end of Skeena Sawmills basement near the chipper, hog and sawdust blower.

Also found were motors and gears covered in dust and “oil-soaked fibre on the pumps and trays,” the report indicated.

“This location is challenged,” reads the report, “with a labyrinth of conveying systems in the basement with transition points that drops excessive amounts of combustible dust into hard to reach areas.”

For this reason “it will be difficult for this location to sustain continued compliance with OHSR 5.81 if there are no significant changes to the combustible dust program,” the report continued in citing the safety guideline pertaining to the removal of material.

Overall, the report concluded that “the employer has failed to ensure that regular inspections are made at this location” which is in “contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.”

WorkSafe BC will not be charging an administrative penalty at this time, the report adds.

A Skeena Sawmills official said the work stoppage was brief.

“We were back up and running very soon,” said administrative assistant and human resources manager Deana Campbell.

The report notes that following the Burns Lake and Prince George mill fires in 2012, WorkSafe BC issued directives to all mills in the province to undertake a risk assessment with respect to combustible dusts and “to implement a dust control program based on risk assessment.”

At the time of this directive, Skeena Sawmills had been closed for years and had yet to re-open under new ownership.

Recent studies by WorkSafe BC have sought to determine if the cause of the explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George was due to dust from milling wood killed by the mountain pine beetle which, theoretically, is drier and more flammable.

Skeena Sawmills processes 95 per cent hemlock and balsam and only five per cent lodgepole pine, which is what the beetle attacks.

“It’s important to note that both types of dusts are potentially combustible under the right conditions,” said WorkSafe BC official  Megan Johnston about the findings.

The study noted that any sawdust is potentially flammable.

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