Canadian Biomass Magazine

Achieving a safety culture amid a pandemic

February 17, 2021
By Gordon Murray, WPAC

Fire brigade training is an important element of the pellet industry’s safety approach. Credit: Pinnacle Renewable Energy,

Every day, WPAC members and their employees work tirelessly to ensure leading safety practices are implemented and embraced. We know we will be measured by our collective efforts as an industry. Our reputation and the trust of regulators, the general public and the families of our employees depend on this. That we achieved this and more  in 2020 was no small feat in the context of a global pandemic.

With the support of our partner, the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC), and the commitment of our members from the boardrooms to the plants across Canada, we were able to overcome the challenges of not being able to meet face to face. It meant long, virtual web conferencing, technical glitches and it required at times more patience and perseverance than most have with technology on the best of days.

We entered 2020, with ambitious goals, and we’re proud to say that we met most of them and continue to progress several others. Perhaps the one that stands out is an initiative we undertook with BCFSC in collaboration with WorkSafeBC.

After some research, and with guidance and prompting from WorkSafeBC, WPAC’s safety committee decided to pursue a process known as Critical Control Management (CCM) which starts with a procedure known as bowtie analysis. We now have all 14 of our member plants and one MDF facility clamoring to be the first to implement it. Together, WPAC and BCFSC, in conjunction with the industry, have developed an implementation schedule with the goal of completing bowties and critical controls to WorkSafeBC by late 2021.


The initiative also caught the eye of university researchers. WorkSafeBC is funding a Dalhousie University Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science research project that will facilitate knowledge and transfer of this work across the wood pellet industry in Canada and internationally.

That same year, our safety committee decided to produce an educational video to help operators minimize the risks associated with syngas. Several partners quickly stepped up with technical and financial support. These include the University of British Columbia Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group, BC Forest Safety Council, BiomassCanada Cluster, and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. This group has now released the seven-minute video Best Practices in Managing Combustible Gas which describes how and where combustible gas will accumulate during the pellet manufacturing process and gives recommendations for reducing risk.

In addition, WPAC, in co-operation with the BC Forest Safety Council, WorkSafeBC and media partner Canadian Biomass, held the Belt Dryer Safety Symposium. The purpose of the symposium was to share the learnings from these incidents and for individual operators to share in-house safe operating procedures with their industry colleagues. There were more than 70 participants and, at the end of the event, they agreed to form a Belt Dryer Working Group to review past incidents and lessons learned for safer uses of belt dryers in our industry.

That brings us to 2021. WPAC’s safety committee, which is responsible for developing and communicating strategies for continuous improvement has released its 2021 safety work plan with a focus on:

  1. Critical Control Implementation
    • Complete Bowties and critical controls to WorkSafe BC by end of 2021.
  2. Improving Belt Dryer Safety
    • Establish a working group to develop safer operating procedures.
  3. Equipment Isolation
    • In cooperation with Dalhousie University, prepare white paper and host a symposium on best practices.
  4. Plant Operator Training and Use of Alarms
    • With BCFSC, complement development of the basic plant operator competency assessment and host webinars.
  5. Local Nitrogen Supply Initiative
    • Complete and share information on stationary and mobile nitrogen systems, as well as recommendations for effective emergency response in case of self-heating and silo fire.
  6. Training and Supervision of Workers
    • Complete and rollout Safety Foundation series videos and webinars.
  7. Incident Reporting
    • Evaluate how we report in collect, track and report incident data.
  8. Communications
    • Continue to hold monthly Safety Committee calls, host webinars and distribute communications that promote and foster a safety culture across the industry.

While these may feel like uncertain times, one thing we can be sure about is that safety will remain our foremost priority. We also know that our success will be determined by our partnerships, by listening to our members and their workers, and communicating effectively every day.

The 2021 Work Plan is available here.

WPAC’s safety committee works in close cooperation with WorkSafeBC and the BC Forest Safety Council. The committee welcomes new members. If you are interested, please contact Scott Bax or Gordon Murray:

Scott Bax, Safety Committee Chair
Tel: (604) 787-3176

Gordon Murray, Safety Committee Secretary
Tel: (250) 837-8821

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