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WorkSafe B.C. has ordered mills in Merritt and throughout the province to complete a full inspection of their operations after an explosion on April 23 killed two people and destroyed the Lakeland Mills plant in Prince George.
David Gray, executive at Aspen Planers Ltd. in Merritt, said staff will complete a full inspection prior to the Wednesday (May 9) deadline.
“It doesn’t change our business,” he said. “We clean up and we do all those things and we certainly welcome [the mandatory inspection] and we hope we can learn some lessons from it.
“If the inspection hasn’t happened, it will happen shortly.”
The Prince George explosion is the second deadly B.C. mill explosion in three months.
Both explosions were at mills processing pine-beetle wood.
“A percentage of our cut is pine-beetle,” Gray said of Merritt’s mill.
The B.C. Forest Industry will now set out a task force to determine the risks related to dust explosions.
Greg Stewart, Lakeland Mills president, said on the company’s website, “We’re devastated by the news of this incident and our thoughts are with our employees and their families.
“All of our attention right now is focused on ensuring our employees and their families receive the care they need.”
The Lakeland sawmill explosion killed shift supervisor Alan Little and sent another 10 workers to hospital for treatment of severe burns and smoke inhalation. Thirteen employees were treated in hospital and then released. Another 25 employees weren’t injured.
The mill explosion at about 9:40 p.m., caused the walls to fall. Workers struggled to escape the debris and dense smoke. The fire that followed was too intense for firefighters to battle, so the department allowed it to burn out.
In January, two workers died and 19 were injured after the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake exploded. The mill is located about 230 kilometres northwest of Prince George.
The Council of Forest Industries stated there is no evidence of a connection between the two explosions.
“This is a significant collaborative effort to ensure that B.C.’s wood products manufacturers are operating to the absolute highest standards,” said West Fraser CEO Hank Ketcham. “We look forward to working with our industry colleagues to advance these important initiatives.”
Don Kayne, Canfor CEO, said the council aims for transparency with employees and the government in order to, “identify new combustion hazards or means of improving safety procedures.
“We have taken every opportunity to increase our efforts in safety since the serious incidents at Lakeland and Babine and this joint initiative is a next and very important step.”
The council has set out four tasks:
• Quantify combustion risks related to dust from both green and dry wood
• Identify best practices for dust mitigation from other industries that have issues related to dust in manufacturing.
• Develop an industry-wide, audible standard that can be utilized to provide independent assurance of mill safety.
• Undertake outreach to all wood products manufacturing companies in B.C. to create an industry-wide approach to safety that is inclusive of both large and small operations.
WorkSafe B.C. is investigating both blasts. Both mills were processing pine beetle-infested wood. However, B.C. mills have processed that type of wood for the last 10 years.
Officials from Ardew Wood Products Ltd. and Tolko Industries Ltd. in Merritt didn’t return Herald phone calls by press time.
WorkSafe plans to investigate Merritt mills by Wednesday.