Self-Reflection and Realities

Producers who have embraced safety and are aggressively pursuing best practices in dust management are finding that, in addition to increased employee safety and retention, these measures are introducing new efficiencies into plants and increasing pr
By Tim Portz | July 27, 2017

 “Safety in Numbers,” Anna Simet’s page-22 feature, begins with WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s version of the U.S.’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration, dressing down Gordon Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, for the less-than-impressive safety record of his members. At the time, the wood products industry in Canada was coming off two very tragic combustible dust explosions in British Columbia that cost four people their lives, and injured dozens more. Simet reports that in the wake of these events, WorkSafeBC stepped up its outreach and inspections across the forest products sector, including Canada’s nascent wood pellet industry. WorkSafe didn’t like what it found in the country’s wood pellet facilities, and it let Murray know. To his and his association’s credit, Murray used the incident to catalyze a revitalization of the safety culture amongst Canada’s wood pellet producers. The results speak for themselves. Initial reviews of wood pellet facilities found less than half of them compliant with WorkSafeBC’s guidelines. Just three years later, the compliance rate is over 90 percent. 

Still, there is more learning to be done. Ron Kotrba’s page-10 story, “Mitigating Pellet Silo Fires,” uses a silo fire at Port Arthur, Texas, shipping terminal to underscore the unique challenge that producing, handling and storing wood pellets presents to producers and their storage and logistics partners. While no one was hurt in the fire, or the eventual total collapse of the storage silo, the incident and the subsequent clean-up efforts generated frustration with the community and other users of the terminal facility.

Pellet production brings with it very real risks. While working on her story, one of Simet’s sources reminded her that wood dust is the medium that pellet producers work with, and as a result, the risk of fire and explosion will always come with the territory.  This doesn’t mean that the industry will forever operate with a cloud of fear hanging over it. In fact, as Murray asserts, the industry must work actively against fear, opening up lines of communication and best-practice sharing throughout the industry—producer to producer, and solutions provider to solutions provider.

Most promising of all is that producers who have embraced safety and are aggressively pursuing best practices in dust management are finding that, in addition to increased employee safety and retention, these measures are introducing new efficiencies into plants and increasing profits. Pinnacle Renewable Energy’s Scott Bax explained to Simet that safety and profitability are tightly correlated, and told her, “The idea that safety costs you money…it’s the total opposite.”


Author: Tim Portz
VICE PRESIDENT OF CONTENT & EXECUTIVE EDITOR
tportz@bbiinternational.com