Hampton Affiliates invests heavily in Decker Lake sawmill safety

Major dust mitigation improvements at local mill should be complete this fall.

Major dust mitigation system upgrades at the Hampton Affiliates Decker Lake sawmill near Burns Lake are expected to be complete early this fall. A dust extraction unit is currently on site and being installed. It is expected to be operational by early September 2013.

The installation of the dust extraction unit will cap off costly improvements to dust mitigation systems and process at the Decker Lake facility.

“You’re approaching almost a million dollars in improvements that have gone into Decker,” Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika said.  “That’s a significant investment when you’re talking about a mill the size of Decker.”

The ongoing upgrades to dust mitigation systems and increased clean-up staff hirings, are part of Hampton Affiliates commitment, along with the rest of the B.C. sawmill industry, to improve the safety at B.C. sawmills in light of two mill explosions – in Burns Lake and in Prince George – which resulted in the loss of four lives and many injuries.

A significant problem is the nature of dust resulting from processing pine beetle killed wood, which is drier and possibly more flammable due to the presence of resins left behind by a tree’s defensive response to the pine beetle’s activity.

Among the actions taken after the 2012 mill explosions, was an April 26, 2012 directive issued to all B.C. sawmills to reduce dust to a level of one-eighth of an inch over no more than five per cent of all surfaces in the mill operation.

The current rebuild of the Babine Forest Products sawmill will include the latest approaches to dust mitigation from the ground up, an option that older mills do not have as they’re forced to retrofit operational production lines to meet the new dust mitigation standards.

As an example, the debarker being installed at the Babine site will be installed externally to the sawmill building itself to keep excessive dust outdoors.

Meeting the new WorkSafe BC wood dust accumulation standards for B.C. sawmills has been an ongoing problem, especially among mills in the central and north central interior, where the majority of wood processed is pine-beetle killed wood.

The Vancouver Sun, through a freedom of information request, recently reported that many B.C. mills have had WorkSafe ‘orders’ or citations issued against them during the past year for excessive wood dust levels.

The Decker Lake mill was reported to have received a citation for wood dust levels on Jan. 20, 2013.

In total, it was reported that 25 sawmills throughout the province were ordered by WorkSafe BC to remove excessive dust build-up between October 2012 and May 2013. According to the report, all mills complied.

All but three of the mills were within the interior regions where pine beetle killed wood is predominately processed.

Zika confirmed that there are no standing WorkSafe BC orders against the Decker Lake sawmill, and any previous minor infringements were quickly dealt with.

“WorkSafe BC usually visits Decker Lake every 30 to 45 days,” Zika said. “When they write up an order, we respond immediately, but the orders stay open until they have officially signed off.”

Hampton Affiliates has also been participating in an voluntary, industry-wide ‘Wood Dust Mitigation and Control Audit’.

The protocol was developed by a group of 10 forestry companies and with the input of the union of United Steelworkers (USW) which represents mill workers in B.C.

The companies involved in building the audit standard were Canfor, West Fraser, Tolko, Interfor, Western Forest, Sinclar Group, Hampton Affiliates, Weyerhaeuser, Conifex and Dunkley Lumber.

The independent auditing program is not meant to replace WorkSafe BC inspections and regulation, but will work as an additional safety measure alongside and in co-operation with provincial regulators.

“We have a bit of work to do to identify who is going to do the work of the third-party auditor,” Zika said. “We expect to have that in place for our Decker Lake facility, likely before the end of the year.”

Information discovered through the self-audits, which are to begin this fall, will be shared with mills across B.C. and Alberta at no cost.