Sawmill Fire Illustrates Combustible Dust & Other Hazards


The recent explosion and fire at a sawmill in BC killed two workers and sent 24 people to the hospital. This tragedy highlights several different safety hazards and issues that all workplaces should address.

Combustible Dust

Combustible dust, such as dust from wood, coal, rubber, grain, sugar, flour, cardboard and aluminum, is particles in the air that are apt to explode under certain conditions. Combustible dust explosions can cause extension property damage and result in numerous injuries and fatalities.

Although the cause of the sawmill explosion is still under investigation, WorkSafeBC is looking into the accumulation of combustible dust because the mill had been cutting wood harvested from forests ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, which produces a fine, dry sawdust.

This incident was the second in three months at a mill in BC. So safety inspectors are inspecting all the mills in the province to ensure they’re properly managing dust buildup.

Obviously, you want to prevent combustible dust from building up in your workplace. But improper cleaning methods can create dust clouds that can explode. So WorkSafeBC released a bulletin on safely cleaning up hazardous dust.

Click here for information on what the OHS laws require employers to do about combustible dust in the workplace.

Emergency Preparedness

The sawmill explosion also highlights the importance of emergency preparedness. For example, emergency response teams had to scramble to make sure they’d located and evacuated everyone from the building—a process made more complicated because they didn’t have access to shift records. So they didn’t know exactly who was working and where at the time of the explosion.

To ensure that your company is adequately prepared for an emergency, go to the OHS Insider’s Emergency Preparedness & Response Compliance Centre, where you’ll learn how to:

Visitor Safety

Lastly, the sawmill was filled with not only workers but visitors. For example, a union official was in the lunchroom with others for a training session.

Although safety professionals generally—and understandably—focus on the safety of workers, employers also have a duty to ensure the safety of visitors to their facilities. Click here for information on how to create a visitor safety policy.

  • Harrington Group, Inc.

    Combustible dust continues to be a major workplace threat throughout the nation. The CSB released a safety video, tht they hope will help to expose that dust fires and explosions continue to claim lives and destroy property in several industries. You can check out the video here: