Safety council eyes sawmill role

A step was taken this week towards the B.C. Forest Safety Council becoming the health and safety association for the province's sawmills in the wake of the fatal explosions at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland Mills.

On Tuesday, the council's board of directors formally approved the initiative. Approval from the industry-led Manufacturers Advisory Group, launched in 2009 to develop best practices in sawmill safety, is expected to come shortly, with a strategy session involving the two groups to follow at the end of this month.

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Exactly what will come out of that remains up in the air but in an interview, the council's safe companies director Rob Moonen said he expects controlling combustible dust, identified as the fuel in both explosions, will be a priority.

The group has already done some work on that front - a year ago it provided advisors at no cost to operations worried about their levels of wood dust.

Moonen gave advance notice of the development last week when he testified at the coroner's inquest into the Lakeland blast.

The forest safety council was created in 2004 to reduce the number of logging-related deaths and serious injuries in the province.

One of its primary tasks was to establish a health and safety standard that must be met by all firms working in B.C.'s forests before they can bid on contracts or timber permits.

At the time, 25 people were dying in B.C.'s forests each year and the serious injury rate used to be three times the provincial average for all industries combined.

Both numbers have been reduced dramatically, although not down to zero. The rate is now 7.7 deaths per year and serious injuries are about twice the provincial average, Moonen told the inquest.

In 2011, the council's reach was extended to wood pellet plants, when it was approached by that industry's association to help develop an audit to reduce the risk of fires in their members' operations.

It had reached the point where it was difficult for them to get insurance, Moonen told the inquest.

The group is funded primarily by a levy on its members but Moonen said WorkSafeBC is willing to fund the latest initiative for the first nine months.

Both the Jan. 20, 2012 Babine Forest Products and the April 23, 2012 Lakeland Mills explosions left two men dead and at least 20 injured.

The Lakeland inquest was adjourned last week to give coroner's counsel time to look at new evidence in the form of an investigation carried out by a forensic engineer hired by the law firm representing Lakeland's owners, the Sinclar Group.

The coroner's inquest into the Babine incident is scheduled to being July 13 in Burns Lake.

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