Preventing wood dust fires: A manager's perspective
By Christian Fournier
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NEW BRUNSWICK - Preventing wood dust fires is always a challenge for any company in the wood industry. You might think you have everything under control or say, ‘We aren't that bad,’ but the truth is, the risk is always there and we must remain vigilant in order to minimize the risk of fires from wood dust.
At Fornebu Lumber in New Brunswick, we had two fires on Friday, June 1, 2018. The first one occurred in the planer. A piece of wood became jammed which cause friction in the planer and caught on fire. The planer operator cleaned the planer during the lunch break. 
The second fire occurred when the fire from the planer was transferred by the blower to the dust collector outside the planer mill. We were very fortunate that our employees acted quickly to extinguish both fires.
We discovered during the firefighting that the fire hydrant hadn't been reactivated from the winter. So, it took longer to extinguish the fire. We were lucky that we happened to have an AWP at the planer mill at the time to help with the second fire. 
After our incident investigation, we had a few action items in order to prevent the fires to re-occur.
  • A preventive maintenance (PM) work order was created to do a major cleaning of the planer on a monthly basis.
  • A PM work order was created to clean the platform at the base of cyclone using an AWP. It was never cleaned since the platform was not safe to stand on.
  • A work order was created for the yard labours to re-activate the rest of the fire hydrants on site.
  • A project is in the works to obtain a new dust collector.
As you can see, we were lucky things didn't get worse. I hope by sharing our incident it helps other sawmills to improve their wood dust programs.
Christian Fournier has worked in the safety profession for more than 10 years. He is currently safety and training coordinator for Fornebu Lumber in New Brunswick as well as a first responder instructor trainer for Saint John Ambulance. Christian is also a member of CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineering) and a director on the board of the New Brunswick chapter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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