Carrier Lumber is not the subject of a WorkSafeBC noncompliance action.
Although the Prince George sawmill was one of 11 mills around B.C. to be cited in May by the workplace safety agency for dust levels that still had to be reduced, they were not believed to be a hazard for exploding and the cleanup of the dust was already underway, according to WorkSafeBC personnel.
"All the mills are working to compliance and every mill I've been in throughout this process is way cleaner than I've ever seen them," said Worksafe regional manager Bruce Clarke. "From a dust standpoint, they are cleaning up better than they ever have in the past."
Clarke also stressed that dust cleanup orders were sudden, took time for mills to accomplish, and the citations of those 11 mills were within the first week of the Lakeland Mill explosion on April 23.
"I'm not aware of any mill in the province going to sanction," he said.
Carrier Lumber president Bill Kordyban said his company didn't wait for the Lakeland incident to initiate cleanup. They were doing unprecedented vacuuming around possible ignition sites starting when the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake exploded on Jan. 20.
"WorkSafeBC never gave us an order that we did not comply with," Kordyban said. "We are complying, it just takes an amount of time to do everything they expressed to us they wanted done. This has been more of an open discussion, but it does involve a set plan in conjunction with WorkSafe."
For example, in order to rule out hot lights as an ignition source of ambient dust, Kordyban ordered LED lights powerful enough to illuminate the lumber factory, but that required a special order to be shipped in and it only arrived a few days ago.
"I am biased, but I believe we have one of the cleanest mills around and always have," said Kordyban. "If you look up the WorkSafeBC inspection report on us dated May 1 you will see they wrote: 'this employer [Carrier Lumber] expressed strong commitment to worker safety and is commited to working proactively towards replacing dust-related hazards at this location.' We were actually the first mill they came and saw."
Kordyban said there have also been active talks with the union to minimize any employment disruptions because implementation of the full dust removal plan requires the entire milling schedule to be redone.
"Our belief is that kind of cleaning takes a total shutdown, you have to have special lighting and cleaning equipment, the mill's machinery has to be quiet for that. That will require an alternate shift arrangement," he said.
Clarke said mills were not being held o a false set of expectations. Prior to these two recent explosions - the only ones of their kind in the known history of the BC sawmilling industry - WorkSafeBC had dust standards designed to prevent fires and ensure healthy breathing, not to prevent explosions.
"We are not assuming dust had anything to do with either of these incidents," Clarke said. "What we have ordered mills to do is for precautionary, interim measures. A very careful investigation is underway into both these incidents and this is one we've got to get right. We have people's lives at stake here; we need the correct answers."
Two of the factors working against the hypothesis of dust causing these explosions is the high relative humidity on the night of Lakeland's blast, and the mixed (live, wet trees together with dead, dry trees) woods being milled. Over past five years, there were times when exclusively dead and dry trees being handled for prolonged periods of time at numerous mills that never exploded.
Claire said there is no timetable for completing the investigations.