WorkSafeBC takes action to improve sawmill safety

WorkSafeBC is working to address 43 safety recommendations.

WorkSafeBC’s board of directors appointed a special adviser in April 2014, Gord Macatee, to make recommendations in order improve safety in sawmills across the province.

In July 2014, Macatee produced a report titled WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan, in which he provided 43 recommendations. The recommendations aimed to further strengthen worker health and safety, build a world-class inspection and investigations regime at WorkSafeBC and ensure increasing dust mitigation compliance in sawmills and other wood manufacturing operations.

On July 15, the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond and WorkSafeBC accepted all of the recommendations in the report.

Since then, WorkSafeBC has been actively working to implement those recommendations, and has committed to providing public updates on its progress.

At this point, 13 of those recommendations have been fully completed, 18 are in progress and on track for completion as scheduled, and 12 require legislative changes.

The latest implementation status report was posted on on Dec. 9, 2014.

Steve Zika, chief executive officer of Hampton Affiliates, owners of Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products, said the majority of efforts at both mills are aimed at keeping workers safe.

“We do this [keep workers safe] through a combination of employee involvement and process changes, safety meetings, upgrades to guarding, attention to housekeeping and dust control etc.”

Zika said there are numerous regulatory compliance programs, government visits and audits that the company participates in – “far more than required in the U.S.A.,” he said.

“I also participate in the CEO MAG efforts to improve safety and all the major sawmill companies in B.C are sharing information and resources to improve worker safety,” he said. “We are never perfect but are always looking for a better way every day to improve the safety at our facilities.”

Controlling combustible dust is a daunting challenge, says Macatee

In a teleconference on Dec. 9, Macatee spoke about the progress made with combustible dust control in the wood manufacturing industry.

One of Macatee’s recommendations was to have daily inspections of sawmills that had been out of compliance in the last round of targeted inspections, until compliance has been sustained for three months. He also encouraged mills that were in compliance to do voluntary daily inspections, to ensure their dust controls would be sustainable.

“Policies have been updated to provide clarity and consistency pertaining to the mitigation and control of wood dust and inspection protocols,” he said.

In October, WorkSafeBC’s inspection officers conducted site visits with all sawmills to discuss the new policy and inspection protocols.

To date, 96 sawmills have chosen to conduct daily independent inspections with weekly reporting to WorkSafeBC, and 22 have chosen to have WorkSafeBC continue to conduct focused inspection activities on their mills.

For the most recent phase of sawmill inspections – from Oct. 6 to Nov. 25 -out of 118 locations, two have been issued combustible dust orders related to a deficiency in the company’s overall combustible dust management program. One location also received a short-term stop-work order for dust accumulation.

“This is a dramatic improvement from where things stood six months ago,” he said.

When Macatee released the report in July, pellet mills were experiencing particular challenges with managing wood dust. At that time, only 40 per cent were in full compliance, he said.

But Macatee recognizes that there’s still work to be done.

“Controlling combustible dust in a wood manufacturing plant is a daunting challenge, and there will never be a time when it isn’t necessary to remain vigilant,” he said.

Macatee said he was also concerned that information about fire events in industrial facilities was not being shared between fire protection authorities and WorkSafeBC.

“Ensuring that sawmills are safer workplaces requires the sharing of information about fire events in industrial facilities,” he said.

WorkSafeBC wants to get to the bottom of why prosecutions were not achieved after mill explosions

Following the incidents at Babine Forest Products sawmill and Lakeland sawmill in 2012, WorkSafeBC conducted investigations of each incident.

On the basis of the information gathered, both the Babine and Lakeland incidents were referred to the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) for charge assessment.

In both cases, the CJB issued clear statements outlining that no charges would be approved against either sawmills due to the “inadmissibility of some of the evidence gathered by WorkSafeBC investigators and the defence of due diligence.”

A key focus of Macatee’s report is to find out the reason for the failure to achieve prosecutions after the two mill explosions.

“That’s the bottom line point of this report,” he said. “Prosecution is needed, and WorkSafeBC has the tools to do it and be successful.”

In the report, Macatee recommended a more “comprehensive and organized” investigative approach that preserves the ability to conduct both cause investigations and investigations that could lead to prosecution.

This new model requires two distinct teams to have their work and files completely separated to minimize any opportunities for file and evidence contamination. Training is also an ongoing priority to ensure that officers are kept abreast of best practices in investigations.

“This model is now operational and is working as intended,” he said.

According to Macatee, stakeholders agree that the time it took for WorkSafeBC to process a penalty, as much as a year, was too long to be an effective deterrent.

“WorkSafeBC is in the process of piloting a streamlined penalty process in two offices to reduce the time it takes to issue a penalty to a target of 90 days,” he said