FORT FRANCES, Ontario - Lumber firm Resolute Forest Products Canada Inc., owner of an idled paper mill, pleaded guilty and has been fined $150,000 after a worker was burned following an explosion of wood dust.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour says the paper mill was idled in 2014 but its bio mass boiler was still in operation to provide heat for the mill through the winter. It was expected that the boiler would be idled after the winter when heating was no longer required.
The boiler was capable of running on either natural gas or bio mass. In 2008 an engineering assessment of the conveyor system for the boiler concluded that the system did not present a dust explosion hazard, owing to the particle size and moisture content of the fuel being used as bio mass.
In the days before the incident, workers had been doing a cleanup of the plant in anticipation of its closure. Up to 15 wheelbarrow loads of fine, dry wood dust that had been swept up from around the plant were dumped into the conveyor system. At that time, the boiler was running on natural gas.
On February 27, 2014, it was Resolute's intention to switch the boiler over to bio mass to burn off remaining fuel stock. On that day, a maintenance worker was checking on a plug-up of material in one of the conveyors and was near the operating controls at the head of the conveyor. The worker had cleared the plug-up and was looking into the conveyor to check whether it was going to plug up again.
As the dry wood dust that had been dumped into the conveyor was travelling on the conveyor, it was ignited by an undetermined source and a dust explosion occurred. A fireball travelled through the conveyor and out the end where the worker was standing. The worker received burns to the body.
Because the boiler system had not been designed to burn only fine, dry wood dust, but rather fuel with a certain moisture content and particle size, the protective measures of Section 63 of the Regulation for Industrial Establishments dealing with explosive hazards were not in place. That section regulates processes that could create an explosive mixture with air in industrial workplaces.
The company was fined $150,000 in Fort Frances court by Justice of the Peace Ron Beck on January 29, 2016.
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