NEWS

Deadly Burns Lake sawmill explosion and fire preventable

01/16/2014 05:05 EST | Updated 03/18/2014 05:59 EDT
The Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion and fire that claimed two lives could have been prevented if supervisors had been doing their job.

That's the conclusion of the long-awaited WorkSafeBC investigation into the massive January 2012 explosion and fire that claimed two lives and injured 20 others.

The 87 page report finds the explosion was caused by a build up of wood dust that was ignited by rotating belts near a conveyor belt motor.

"The dust was compacted and subjected to near-constant friction from the rotating belts and sheaves," the report says. "This dust caught fire and ignited the airborne wood dust that was dispersed in the area."

The report says the wood dust caught fire and ignited more dust that was already dispersed throughout the mill. 

"An explosion and subsequent fire travelled through the mill, disturbing and dispersing the accumulated wood dusts and setting off secondary explosions that totally destroyed the mill, killing two workers and injuring 20, many seriously."

In its report, WorkSafeBC puts the blame squarely on mill management.

"The accumulations of wood waste before the explosion and the poor condition of some of the electrical equipment that was inspected after the incident indicate that supervisors were not effectively or adequately monitoring the work that was being done."

The worker safety agency says it's taking the following actions:

- A directive order to every sawmill in B.C. to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment with respect to hazards created by combustible dusts and develop and implement an effective combustible dust control program.

- Follow-up inspections of sawmills by WorkSafeBC prevention officers.

- The expansion of inspections to similar wood-processing operations where dust accumulation could be a hazard.

- The issuance of hazard alerts on the increased risk in winter of combustible dust.

WorkSafeBC says its report only addresses the cause of the sawmill explosion. However, it says it is currently considering enforcement action against the company under the Workers Compensation Act. 

Earlier this month, Crown counsel revealed it would not be bringing criminal charges against the owners of the mill. At the time, it said WorkSafeBC's investigation didn't follow the rules for conducting criminal investigations and as a result a large amount of evidence would have to be thrown out.

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