RICHMOND, BC —WorkSafeBC has issued nearly 800 inspection reports and orders since Oct. 1 in its ongoing inspections of sawmills and wood products operations stemming from its crackdown on combustible dust accumulations. Nearly 250 of the write ups have been related to combustible dust issues.

The provincial safety agency's Dec. 21 update breaks out activity for its phase one inspections of sawmills and phase two inspections of wood products and paper manufacturing facilities. WorkSafeBC announced plans for the industry-wide inspections three days after the April 23 explosion at Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, BC, that killed two and injured 22 employee. That tragedy came three months after a similar explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, BC, which killed two and injured 20 employees.

WorkSafeBC inspectors revisited 172 sawmill and lumber processing locations since Oct. 1 as part of the phase I program. Inspectors reported 47 combustible dust related reports, issued 13 combustible dust orders and  also detected 74 issues unrelated to combustible dust.

The WorkSafeBC officers also visited 240 wood products and paper making locations since Oct. 1. issuing a total of 672 orders. Included in this total are 108 write ups for dust accumulations, 61 for dust collection issues, 10 for unsafe compressed air use and one for a ventilation issue. Another 492 orders that were issued were non-combustible dust related.

Late last month, WorkSafeBC referred its completed investigations of the Babine Forest Prodcts' and Lakeland Mills' accidents to the national Crown Counsel. Each company could face fines of up to $652,000 and possible criminal charges if found guilty of violating the Workers Compensation Act.

Officials of Hampton Affiliates, part owner of Babine Forest Products, and Lakeland Mills each issued press releases denouncing WorkSafeBC's referral to the Crown Counsel.

Steve Zika, CEO of Portland, OR-based Hampton Affiliates, which plans to rebuld its destroyed sawmill, said, "We have cooperated fully throughout the WorkSafe investigation and will continue to cooperate to bring this matter to conclusion. We were surprised by this announcement and disappointed that we are not yet able to see the report of WorkSafe’s findings so that we can fully understand what happened that tragic night of the explosion."

In expressing his company's disappointment in WorkSafeBC's actions, Greg Stewart, president of Sinclair Group Forest Products, parent company of Lakeland Mills, said, "It is critical for Lakeland and the industry to do everything we can to ensure that this never happens at another mill. Lakeland has been cooperating with WorkSafeBC and other regulatory bodies to find out the cause. We are working with our partners in the industry as well. We anticipated WorkSafeBC would release its report into the cause, so it is disappointing to learn that that information is being withheld."

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