Wood Business

Features Health and Safety Sawmilling
WorkSafeBC releases report

Jan. 17, 2014 – WorksafeBC has released its incident investigation report on the causes and underlying factors leading to the explosion on January 20, 2012 at the Babine Forest Products Limited sawmill in Burns Lake, B.C.

A large fireball burst through the roof at the northeast side of the mill at approximately 20:07 and travelled east to west through the operating and basement levels of the sawmill. The fire spread throughout the entire sawmill and destroyed it. Two workers were killed and 20 others were injured.

The report describes a sawmill that was not equipped with a sufficient dust collection system. Many of the components were disconnected. According to the report, "there was no dust collection system along the entire east side of the mill or at the edgers or trimsaws located in the general east-centre areas of the mill."

The report also states that the dust collection system may not have been working since as early as October 21, 2011, citing plugged and frozen filter bags as the cause. It also shows that the spark detection system had been installed incorrectly and that the mill had been supplied with an inspection and maintenance program by fax between January 17-19, 2012 but it is unknown whether the system was fully functional at the time of the explosion on January 20.

The event occurred during a cold snap that saw temperatures below -40°C. Some of the water pipes had been frozen. 

The report reads, "The day before the incident, the production shift had been shut down halfway through the shift because of numerous plug-up conditions in the basement level (this occurs when waste conveyors get stuck or otherwise stop running because wood debris is interfering with the drive sprockets or other drive conditions). The production shift was sent to the basement to assist with the clean-up. Shortly afterwards, the main waste conveyor (9-35) was shut down so that contractors could work on the main water line along the north wall. This conveyor shutdown stopped the flow of wood waste out of the sawmill."

On the day of the incident, the outside temperature had warmed up to –20°C. There was maintenance done throughout the dayshift on various frozen water pipes and other production issues.

"Witness statements following the incident indicate that the fireball rose through the gratings and floor throughout this area and engulfed the operating floor. This basement area under the edgers and beside all the vibrating screens was approximately 20–30 feet southwest of the point of origin and had large dust accumulations. The abundant fuel resulted in a catastrophic secondary explosion in that part of the basement."

The report concludes that the explosion and fire that destroyed the sawmill was preventable. It states that systems in place for dispersion of airborne dusts have been generally successful in keeping dust concentrations below a deflagration level. But in the winter, sawmills often "button up" to preserve heat, which makes these systems less effective. Misting systems are often turned off because of frozen filters.

The report states that, "no adequate actions were taken to reduce or control the levels of airborne wood dust within the mill even though this was the root cause of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation violation cited in December 2011. Effective actions should have been taken to control both the airborne dispersal of wood dust as well as the excessive accumulations on floors and surfaces. Such actions might have prevented this incident."

The Crown determined there will be no penalties for the operators of the mill because WorkSafeBC's investigation was badly flawed. WorkSafeBC failed to inform witnesses of their Charter rights before taking statements and did not obtain search warrants. BC Premier Christy Clark has ordered a review into how the investigation was so badly botched.

Time is of the essense since WorkSafeBC will submit a report to the Crown next month on an incident at a Prince George sawmill that occurred three months after the Burns Lake explosion. 

To read the full report, go to http://www.worksafebc.com/news_room/news_releases/assets/nr_14_01_16/BabineForestProductsIncidentInvestigationReport.pdf.

January 17, 2014  By  Amie Silverwood

Print this page


Stories continue below