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COFI dusts off safety issue

Inevitably, discussions at the COFI 2014 annual conference turned to dust mitigation and safety, including what's working, and what's not.


April 3, 2014
By Scott Jamieson

Wednesday’s sessions wrapped up with a panel discussion on safety, including a detailed look at the explosive issue of sawmill dust control and at industry’s response to the dual tragedies in the spring of 2012 – Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills. Discussion was kicked off by presentations from James Gorman, COFI president and CEO, and Kerry Douglas, corporate safety manager at West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd., followed by Catherine Roome, president and CEO of the BC Safety Authority.

The general consensus was that significant process has been made, both in engineering and house keeping as well as in monitoring, but that much is left to be done to ensure that dust mitigation and control are where they need to be. Gorman noted that recent Worksafe BC inspections revealed over 80 compliant operations, but still uncovered 61 that did not comply. Steps to improve that performance include awareness campaigns on the worker’s right to refuse unsafe working conditions, third-party dust control audits that may become a condition of COFI membership, and continued work on engineering solutions.

West Fraser’s Douglas focused on the latter, reviewing some of the work the company has been doing at its dust control R&D mill in Chasm, BC. In a fascinating presentation, Douglas outlined steps that ranged from extended cleaning tools for beams and wire trays to probe misters, blowers, and custom built dust capture systems for bandmills and other machine centres. The goal, he adds, is to create dust control best practices at the Chasm mill, and then roll them out to other company mills. The practices have also been shared with other industry players.

Wrapping up, BCSA’s Roome told the 400 plus delegates that the risk level has been significantly reduced. However, she showed photos of mill’s with poor operating practices and significant dust control challenges as proof that more needs to be done to drive awareness and understanding.

“The fact that 1/3 of the operations we inspected failed despite the fact that they had notice we were coming is disappointing. There is work left to do.”

Roome says that given the complexity of the issue, an important first step is for mills to bring in an expert in dust fire and explosion safety for a detailed risk assessment. These experts should be NFPA certified, she adds. Another good starting point according to Douglas is the Fire Inspection Prevention Initiative (FIPI) website.