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WorkSafeBC Combustible Dust Initiative Overview

Richmond, B.C., March 4, 2014 — On January 31, 2014, WorkSafeBC concluded a three-month inspection of all active sawmills across B.C. The inspections began November 1, 2013. These targeted inspections were in support of the ongoing Combustible Dust Strategy that was initiated in 2012. The objective of these targeted inspections was to evaluate current compliance with combustible dust management requirements, and confirm that every sawmill has an effective and sustainable plan for the management of wood dust. A core team of 10 prevention officers conducted the inspections. In total, 144 locations were inspected.

WorkSafeBC officers conducted these inspections to monitor how effectively mills were meeting their combustible dust management requirements. Under the Workers Compensation Act, all employers have the legal responsibility to keep their worksites safe from injury and disease. WorkSafeBC officers conduct inspections to determine the extent to which employers are managing safety on their worksites. Where prevention officers find issues that can cause an unsafe environment for workers, officers will educate and consult, and as necessary, write orders to oblige the employer to address those safety issues; as required, WorkSafeBC may also apply administrative penalties.

Inspection results for the Combustible Dust Initiative indicate that many sawmill operators have put significant efforts into improving the management and control of combustible dust, with a substantial number of employers found to be in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. However, not all employers were found to be currently achieving compliance.

Inspection results summary

  • 249 inspections were undertaken related to combustible dust regulations.
  • 83 of the 144 locations inspected were in compliance at the time of inspection and received no orders related to combustible dust. Many of those locations had dust control plans incorporating significant engineering controls to augment and mitigate the amount of manual dust cleanup required.
  • 61 employers were issued a total of 93 orders related to combustible dust. Most of these orders were for unacceptable levels of dust accumulations outside normal production areas; i.e. basements, crawl spaces, overhead areas, areas hidden behind motor control centres or cabinets, and outside areas.
  • 11 employers were issued a total of 13 stop-work orders due to unacceptable accumulations of secondary dust and other significant violations, which posed an immediate hazard to the health and safety of workers. In most cases, the areas noted were cleaned the same day, allowing production to resume by the next shift. These locations are subject to frequent ongoing inspections to ensure compliance is maintained while mill operators address the challenges noted.
  • Two locations inspected during the initiative received a second stop-work order and have been directed to participate in a closely monitored compliance plan that includes weekly submissions to WorkSafeBC prevention officers regarding their dust management process. Officers are inspecting these locations at an increased frequency during this monitored phase to ensure the workplaces remain in compliance with WorkSafeBC requirements and expectations.
  • WorkSafeBC officers will continue to inspect sawmills on a regular basis to ensure that employers continue to manage and safely remove combustible dust from their workplaces
  • 17 warning letters were recommended during this inspection phase to advise employers that an administrative penalty may be considered for further similar violations of the regulations and 3 administrative penalties were recommended for violations of the regulations. Warning letters and penalties are tools used by officers, as necessary, to motivate certain employers to comply with the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. The application of either sanction process is dependent on several factors, including the level of risk related to combustible dust violations and the motivation required of the employer.