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Forest Worker Safety Network

fwsn 2008


BC Sawmills Struggle to Comply with Dust Regulations
Blind Spots, A New Way To Fix'Em Logging Video Feature Pick

fwsn 2008

Experts say major changes needed, including a new attitude toward safety.

By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun  — March 28, 2014

A year and a half after a second deadly wood dust-fuelled explosion ripped through a B.C. sawmill killing two workers, a pair of WorkSafeBC inspectors stepped into Sigurdson Forest Products sawmill west of Williams Lake.

By this time, in early November 2013, the message had been delivered loud and clear to the more than 140 sawmill mills in the province: manage and clean up potentially explosive wood dust in your mills.

Yet by the time WorkSafeBC officer Shane Campbell and his partner Robert Roesner had finished inspecting the Interior B.C. sawmill, they’d written up half a dozen orders for dust accumulations that were a hazard for fire or explosion, for failure to ensure regular dust inspections and for the use of high-pressure air to blow down dust. (Mills had been warned not to use high-pressure air because it is not only an immediate explosion threat, but it kicks up fine dust where it settles on beams and other hard-to-clean places.)

Sigurdson was also written up for failing to maintain the ventilation system, a violation for open doors and panels on electrified motor-control centres (where fine dust can accumulate) and inadequate training for workers, according to WorkSafeBC inspection reports obtained by The Vancouver Sun through a freedom of information request.

The mill was ordered to shut down until the wood dust was cleaned up. Two months later, in January, the mill was again cited for excessive levels of wood dust and inadequate inspections. The mill was ordered to shut down a second time.

Sigurdson, whose officials did not respond to a request for an interview, was not alone in having difficulty maintaining a dust clean up program. Of the 144 mills inspected last winter, 42 per cent failed to comply with WorkSafeBC rules. While Sigurdson is a small, stand-alone operation, large companies with multiple mills were also on the list: Canfor, Interfor, Tolko, Weyerhaeuser, West Fraser and Western Forest Products.

There have been no more major explosion incidents since the second sawmill explosion in 2012, but a small explosion last summer at Carrier Lumber in Prince George, in the ventilation system, injured one worker. And in two years there have been more than a dozen major and smaller fires at B.C. sawmills.

Just before last Christmas, a small mill in Fort St. James burned to the ground. The cause is unknown. That mill was located in the same region where the two mills exploded and burned: Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake on Jan. 20, 2012, and Lakeland Mills in Prince George on April 23, 2012. There was a time when deadly explosions were synonymous with underground coal mines and grain elevators. But those industries appear to have mastered dealing safely with dust.

What is it going to take for the forest sector to do the same?

Following the latest round of inspections, Labour Minister Shirley Bond issued a stern rebuke to sawmill owners, saying they were not doing enough to clean up wood dust. Safety experts say there is no simple answer: it can take money for equipment or engineering changes, more training and education for industry safety managers and regulators, and a major shift in the way safety is thought about. That shift needs to embrace safety as a key part of managing an operation, not as a single item on the bottom of a to-do list.

Lessons learned in tackling fatalities in the logging and forestry trucking sector in the mid-2000s also show it’s imperative that the focus on safety is sustained.

Neil McManus, a North Vancouver-based industrial hygienist with 30 years experience, says the sawmill sector faces a systemic problem when it comes to dealing with the voluminous fine dust produced by cutting timber killed by pine beetles in B.C.’s Interior. Where once dust was wrongly considered only a respiratory health concern, it is now known to be a potentially deadly explosive problem.

McManus believes some of the people trying to improve safety do not have enough knowledge to tackle the problems, including with engineering solutions. They need to acquire those skills, perhaps with the help of safety engineering degrees, said the author of several safety books and training manuals.

Regulators could also do with more education, said McManus, who holds a master’s degree in occupational health and safety engineering. He said it is clear industry personnel and regulators failed to recognize that mills had moved outside the safety limits they were designed for as a result of the pine-beetle dust.

McManus noted the explosive potential of wood dust has been known for decades, having been studied by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the 1950s and 1960s. “I think the system is broken,” said McManus, who is also a fellow of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. “You’ve got to have the technical knowledge, and so many people out there do not have it.”

But industry’s major players say they are making progress: implementing dust cleaning programs, investing millions in dust-control equipment upgrades and creating an independent dust audit for use in their mills. Canfor says its has invested $12 million in dust-control equipment. Last year, Tolko, Conifex, Interfor and Hampton Affiliates said they were spending $12 million in total. Since 2012, West Fraser has spent more than $20 million on upgrades to address wood dust safety.

University of B.C. professor George Astrakianakis says that engineering solutions that remove the dust at source are the best choice, but many companies may not be able to afford the wholesale equipment changes that are needed. That leaves those companies that do not invest in equipment to rely on labour to keep mills clear of dust, said Astrakianakis, an occupational and health instructor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. However, relying on labour opens up other issues.

Sawmill workers have said there are times when production trumps safety. For example, if a worker on the production line is sick, he’ll be replaced by the cleanup person. During WorkSafeBC’s second inspection in January of the Sigurdson sawmill, the inspection officer was told the weekend cleanup person was not available the previous weekend.

“I don’t think anyone, for a minute, is equating lives for investment. We are not talking about that. But they are trying to address all of the concerns and all of the safe work practices and procedures WorkSafeBC is putting in place within the context of a responsible business plan,” said Astrakianakis, who has worked in the forest sector and has a degree in pulp and paper engineering.

He said, however, it’s imperative for industry to err on the side of caution, and be hyper-vigilant about dust. This is not the first time the forestry industry has had its safety record scrutinized. The harvesting and logging sector was under a magnifying glass for its safety record nearly a decade ago when 43 workers were killed in one year.

Fatalities were significantly decreased — reaching a low of six in 2009 — with increased oversight by the province, tighter WorkSafeBC regulations, creation of the industry-led B.C. Forest Safety Council and a safety certification program. But the death toll is climbing again for hand fallers, truckers and logging equipment operators. It reached 11 in 2013.

Roger Harris, the B.C. Forest Safety Council’s ombudsman, says the recent fatality increase highlights how important it is to make fundamental shifts in how safety is approached. The culture change must be absolute, said Harris, a former Liberal MLA who almost lost his hand in the 1980s as a logger in northwest B.C. “If you only go half way, you never get to that point where you get to experience the paradigm shift. You probably get to appoint where you have probably made it worse,” he said.

For example, a manager or CEO might tell workers that they are now free to talk to them about safety, that their “door is open,” but the workers don’t believe it, said Harris. And the effort must be sustained, and not be directed elsewhere when safety appears to be improving, he said. “The irony, of course, is that everywhere where it does occur, you’ll find their bottom lines were better every time. But there’s a fear — maybe it’s a loss of power,” says Harris.

Companies like U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa have learned this. In the late 1980s, its then new CEO Paul O’Neill famously said his managers would be judged by their plant’s numbers, an effort to turn the company into a world-class, profitable operation. But the numbers he held his managers to were lost-time employee injuries, not production or financial statistics. Alcoa not only became one of the safest companies in America, but one of the most profitable.

Alcoa is one of the companies highlighted in the 2003 Conference Board report Driving Toward “0,” Best Practices in Corporate Safety and Health. The report noted that within companies known for safety and health excellence, safety is a shared value. “If this value, both to business and all employees, is not shared, any improvements in safety will very likely not be sustainable even if achieved for a period of time as the result of becoming a priority,” said the report.

Ken Higginbotham, a spokesman for 10 major B.C. lumber producers, agreed a culture shift is needed, one that includes everyone from CEOs to front-line workers. But the former Canfor executive said the fact that CEOs from B.C.’s major forest companies banded together to lead a dust safety effort — which included research on the potential of wood dust to explode — shows they are sincere and understand what’s at stake.

“They are anxious to have a situation where workers can come to work and be convinced or certain they will be able to go home safely at night,” he said. But he said the recent inspection results showed that it takes a sustained, focused effort to improve safety.

Higginbotham said the CEO group — whose companies operate about 50 of the 144 sawmills in the province — are now trying to figure out ways to spread their new-found knowledge on dust management to smaller companies and mills. That will involve translating National Fire Protection Association combustible dust standards into more easily understandable language and also possibly making available expertise to those smaller mills, he said.

This Gordon Hoekstra story is courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

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If the rear of a back-up light was a convex mirror instead of just the housing, then you would never again have any front-end blind spots.

There’s no shortage of good ideas amongst truck drivers, mechanics too, about the hardware of trucking, about how to do things better. They're on the front lines, after all. Who better to say what works, what doesn't, and what could work better?

But probably 99 out of every 100 good ideas go nowhere. The task of taking a product concept to the next level is just too daunting. Where do you start? And who has the time or money anyway?

Of the remaining 1%, I'd bet that only a tiny fraction goes any further than a crude prototype.

And then there's Marty Vanderhoek, a life-long truck driver from Langley, B.C. who's been at the wheel since 1975. From fish to fruit, and heavy equipment in between, he's pulled it all. But he may soon be better known as an inventor.

With enormous determination and a conviction that his own good idea could make other drivers more confident in sharing the road with smaller vehicles, and save lives in the process, Vanderhoek has worked for four years to bring his product to market. And he's almost there.

He figures he's solved the front-end blind spot problem that plagues every truck driver. How on earth can you see that car or motorcycle that's running right beside you and a little ahead of your door? Essentially, you can't.

His company is called Xlite Industries and at this point its sole product is the patented Smart Lite, which is basically a back-up lamp combined with a convex mirror on the reverse side facing down and forward. And through that mirror -- viewed in your door mirror -- you can see who and what is rolling along beside you. At night as well, maybe even more effectively, because in the dark you'll see only that hidden car's taillights.

Already well received by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, according to Vanderhoek, prototypes of the Smart Lite have also been tested by quite a few drivers. And he claims 95% of them say they'd never again want to operate a heavy truck without a set of them installed.

The product is a direct replacement for standard back-up lamps, so installation is easy. Its convex mirror is heated, adjustable, and replaceable. The lamp's 55-watt halogen light bulb is also replaced easily. The housing was initially stainless steel but that proved too heavy, so it's now made of a high-quality polycarbonate.

Vanderhoek notes that in some jurisdictions and countries a high-mount back-up light isn't legal but high-mount turn signals are acceptable. So Xlite offers a version that substitutes an LED turn signal or amber emergency strobe light.

There's also a stainless-steel mounting bracket made expressly for sand and gravel trucks -- and presumably any dump truck. Drivers who have tested them on such trucks are said to call them a big help when driving onto all too often narrow weigh scales or when loading or unloading in construction zones that have little room to maneuver in. They can actually see their front wheels.

Courtesy of THE LOCKWOOD REPORT - June 19, 2013 Vol. 9, No. 12

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FWSN Media Room

The Forest Worker Safety Network regularly reviews logging videos on The video below is our feature pick for this month. Click the video screen if you wish to enlarge the video for viewing on in new browser window on the website.  [back to top]

Log Truck Drivers - Part 1

This video is the first of a two part series about the challenges that face the off-road logging truck drivers. Steep hills, big loads and tight corners are just some of the trials that test the off-road logging truck drivers on a routine basis. What follows is some Hayes Logging video footage that was shot over 10 years ago out at Franklin near the Alberni Valley. Part Two will follow next month. Video courtesy of dylanwinter1.

Something to say about this video? Email us at:


Safe Workplaces... Our Right, Our Responsibility

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FWSN Tailgate Talk

Safe Workplaces... Our Right, Our Responsibility

Day of Mourning - April 28th

Forest Worker Safety Network

The Forest Workers Safety Network (FWSN) is an initiative of United Steelworkers (USW) District 3, which represents over 20,000 forest workers in British Columbia.

In light of rising forest industry fatalities and injuries, the FWSN has been formed as a response to a demand for a worker-focused information and networking system. The FWSN is available to all BC forest workers, at no cost, whether or not they are members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The FWSN is initiating its activities by disseminating information developed for BC Coastal loggers and woodlands employees, from stump to dump and beyond. We are also collecting information on safety issues in the sector and on urgent and pressing issues that groups of workers and individuals face. We provide general health and safety information and information on the USW’s ongoing efforts to stop needless fatalities and injuries.

There will be regular communications for all workers who sign up.

Join the Forest Workers Safety Network today!  [top]

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Forest Workers Safety Network - 2009