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Wood Dust Safety in Our Mills

At West Fraser, safety is a core value and a business priority and we are committed to ensuring a safe working environment where wood dust is efficiently and safely managed in our mills. While every person has a vital role to play in workplace safety, addressing wood dust management effectively is also the result of collaboration within the industry and with regulators, educators and researchers.  We work closely with other forestry companies, safety organizations and WorkSafe BC to understand and address wood dust in our operations. We are committed to working collaboratively to deliver continued progress on advancing dust management systems across all mills.

In 2012, tragic wood-dust related incidents at two sawmills in Northern British Columbia shocked the entire B.C. forest sector. At the time of the tragedies, combustible wood dust was soon suspected as a cause. It was so immediately concerning that the B.C. forest industry came together to launch a collaborative “Manufacturer’s Advisory Group” to consider safety improvements for the entire sector. The MAG’s purpose was to bring together all of the stakeholders needed to understand wood dust better, learn about the nature of its potential explosivity and develop procedures to address wood dust hazards and ensure employee safety.

Now part of the BC Forest Safety Council, MAG’s collective funding of in-depth research, careful analysis of risk, fire prevention approaches and protocols led to the implementation of new procedures and safety reforms to address wood dust accumulations. Ultimately, the MAG developed a detailed Wood Dust Audit for B.C. wood processing facilities and piloted it in the fall of 2013.  The MAG’s collaborative efforts to improve the industry’s performance in managing wood dust were awarded the Lieutenant Governor of B.C.’s Safety Award for Excellence in Systems Safety.

Wood Dust audit checklist Our active role in MAG has led us to enhance our housekeeping procedures and training, adding new equipment, ventilation and collection systems and modifying our existing systems to control wood dust in our mills better. Our employees are also active participants in managing wood dust, particularly the challenges related to the extra fine powder of dry, mountain pine beetle-killed wood processed in our B.C. mills over the last ten years. West Fraser remains an active part of the British Columbia-based MAG safety working group.

While the effort began in our B.C. operations, we have carried this approach to our Alberta facilities and are rolling out similar standards in our U.S. operations. Facilities are responsible for creating comprehensive, site-specific, Wood Dust Mitigation and Control and Fire Safety Plans, which addresses a multi-factor strategy to control and address wood dust accumulation through the implementation of our Corporate Wood Dust Mitigation & Control Policy. This policy includes 11 elements:

  1. Wood dust identification in the workplace.
  2. Identification of ignition sources.
  3. Hazard assessment to determine the risks of wood dust in the workplace.
  4. Hazard mitigation and control process.
    1. Passive containment to keep wood dust and debris in the equipment
    2. Containment and ventilation for major dust generating equipment
    3. Effective and efficient ventilation and collection systems to grab the dust at the source
    4. Enhanced ventilation systems inspection and maintenance
    5. Enhanced housekeeping and clean-up protocols and standards
    6. The introduction of new methods of clean-up and dust control, such as air and/or water wands
    7. Added misting blowers and water mist systems
  5. Change management process.
  6. Corrective action management process.
  7. Fire investigation process.
  8. Operational responsibilities and accountabilities.
  9. Orientation and training of employees and contractors.
  10. Fire and Emergency Plan.
  11. Annual program review.

We continue to improve our protocols and processes to tackle wood dust and ensure we are operating safe workplaces. Under our wood dust program, mills take part in an independent, third-party audit to the standard every three years. While we have made significant progress, there is more to do. West Fraser’s Safety Manager and Wood Dust Coordinator are responsible for sharing best practices, new knowledge and ensuring that all of our mills are meeting rigorous standards for wood dust protocols and housekeeping.

The voluntary dust audit standard and other MAG resources (including employee and contractor training materials) developed for the management and mitigation of combustible wood dust are available to all wood processing facilities – visit this link to access these resource materials.

See also WorkSafe BC’s Combustible Wood Dust Resource Toolbox.