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BCSA issues safety order issued for electrical equipment in sawmills


The BC Safety Authority (BCSA) issued a safety order today relating to regulated electrical equipment ordering sawmills to verify they have valid operating permits in place, that proper maintenance procedures are being carried out, and that incidents are being reported as per existing BCSA directives.

This measure is precautionary and part of the BCSA’s ongoing investigation into the recent explosions and resulting fires at two B.C. sawmills that resulted in fatalities and serious injuries to workers. This safety order supports a directive order issued last week by WorkSafeBC.

Stephen Hinde, electrical safety manager at the BCSA, issued the safety order as a precautionary measure to be acted upon without delay. “Although the investigations into the two recent fatal incidents are ongoing and the causes of those incidents have not been identified, this safety order is aimed at minimizing the risk of fire or explosion related to regulated electrical equipment being a potential combustion or ignition source in wood processing operations.”

Hinde explained further, “Electrical equipment is used throughout sawmills and during normal operation can create heat and electrical sparks. This could act as an ignition source for a fire or explosion, so it’s important that mills ensure they are following the Safety Standards Act”.

While this safety order is specific to owners and operators of sawmills around electrical equipment, other regulated technologies are also still under investigation at Babine Forest Products, including propane and natural gas. BCSA is not yet prepared to rule out propane or natural gas as either an ignition or fuel source at Babine while the investigation is ongoing.

As well as issuing this safety order, the following precautionary measures have been taken by the BCSA since the explosion at Babine in January:

• Beginning in February, gas safety officers with BCSA conducted assessments of gas operating permits in sawmills and industrial sites across the province. This action was taken to verify valid permits, and check technical elements of the gas equipment. This review did not identify any systemic concerns.
• In early April, electrical safety officers with BCSA began to conduct a survey of electrical operating permits at a select group of wood processing plants to assess the safety of regulated electrical equipment and the effectiveness of mandated electrical maintenance programs. It is anticipated this work will be complete in May.

Supplementing the general workplace safety measures ordered by WorkSafeBC, the following items are prescribed in BCSA’s safety order (the full and complete text can be found at www.safetyauthority.ca under Industry Alerts) which applies specifically to regulated electrical equipment:

• Verify that a valid operating permit is in place.
• Develop a process to report incidents involving electrical equipment or electrical work.
• Report any incidents that have occurred since January 1, 2010 and that have not been previously reported.
• Verify that the interior of enclosures of electrical motor control centres, power distribution centres, or similar switchgear are clear and free of known or potential combustible or explosive materials such as wood dust.
• Verify that electrical cabinet doors and access covers for energized electrical equipment are closed and secured.
• Verify that ventilation systems for electrical equipment enclosures are clean, working properly and installed in accordance with the equipment manufacturer’s instructions.
• Submit a completed copy of the Safety Order Response Form to the BC Safety Authority no later than July 13, 2012.