BURNABY, BC - A trend to finer wood dust - resulting from dryer beetle killed wood and finer-kerf saw blades - may have contributed to a series of fires and plant explosions in British Columbia mills and wood products factories.

A 2012 internal memo from WorkSafeBC, released through a Freedom of Information request, also predicted industry resistance to wood dust control rules  "if an enforcement strategy is pursued at this time."

WorkSafeBC circulated an internal document stating the agency was concerned that an enforcement strategy to address wood dust in sawmills would lead to industry pushback, according to the United Steelworkers.

"Less than two months before a deadly explosion at the Lakelands sawmill in Prince George, BC, killed two workers," says a statement issued October 1 by the United Steelworkers. The Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA Canada) union merged with the United Steel Workers in 2004.

Following a sawmill explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, BC, that killed two workers, WorkSafeBC produced an "issue management" document dated Feb. 27, 2012, titled "Wood Dust in Wood Product Manufacturing Facilities – Potent Fire and Explosion Hazards."[See PDF]

Noting the combustibility of wood dust and a number of dust related fires and explosions in preceding years, the document says, "Industry sensitivity to the issue given the recent event and limited clarity around what constitutes an explosion could lead to push back if an enforcement strategy is pursued at this time."

"This internal document clearly demonstrates that WorkSafeBC was more concerned about pushback from industry CEOs than the health and safety of workers," said Stephen Hunt, United Steel Workers Director for western Canada, in a statement. "If this does not call for a public inquiry, I don't know what does." 

The document was obtained by the United Steelworkers through a Freedom of Information request from WorkSafeBC. The initial response to the FOI request resulted in a document that WorkSafeBC termed an "earlier version" that did not include the statement regarding industry sensitivity and pushback, according to the steelworkers union.  A subsequent FOI request resulted in the document that includes the passage. The United Steel Workers is calling for a public inquiry.

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