BURNS LAKE, B.C. – British Columbia’s workers’ compensation authority has fined a Burns Lake company $56,000 in the wake of a 2014 explosion at a wood pellet plant that injured three workers.
WorkSafeBC imposed the penalty against Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. after an investigation report concluded the company failed to maintain safe working conditions and to exercise due diligence.
Pinnacle fell short on providing adequate safety information, training and supervision, the report found.
“These failures contributed to an explosion which carried a high risk of causing serious injury or death,” read the document.
The investigation concluded that workers failed to follow procedures before opening up a dryer door during a routine burner cleaning, including shutting off a combustion fan before the equipment had cooled sufficiently.
It also found that the facility’s production superintendent had directed a worker to abandon the control room to help with the clean out, leaving no one to monitor as temperatures rose to dangerously high levels.
The temperature in the dryer chamber climbed to 358 degrees Celsius, far higher than the 80 C stipulated in the manufacturer’s instructions before the door can be safely opened.
The report concluded the explosion was caused by a build up of gases in the burner, sparked by a combination of residual heat and a sudden inflow of oxygen.
“There is no evidence that the atmosphere was monitored for oxygen, flammable gases, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide … before workers entered into the burner combustion chamber,” read the report.
The three workers standing outside the dryer door were knocked off their feet and suffered burns as a result of the blast.
The report also found in the aftermath of the explosion that the employer had submitted a document outlining safe work procedures that was labelled as a draft and dated 11 days after the incident.
The WorkSafeBC report described the procedures as “confusing and incomplete” because they were “scattered in at least eight different documents, which did not cross-reference one another.”
Burns Lake was the scene of another mill explosion in 2012, which saw two workers killed and 19 others injured at a plant owned by Babine Forest Products.
A coroner’s inquest found the deaths were accidental and no charges were laid, but the United Steelworkers union is calling for a public inquiry into both that explosion and another fatal blast that happened at Lakeland Mills in Prince George a few months later.
The Lakeland explosion killed two people and injured dozens more.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the fan was not shut off, when it fact the report said it was shut off early.