Canadian Biomass Magazine

Pellet safety webinars increase knowledge and awareness

August 24, 2021

When the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC)’s safety committee proposed a six-part Safety Foundation Webinar series earlier this year, the aim was to raise awareness and understanding about issues that have the biggest impact on pellet plant safety — from preventing combustible dust buildups to designing effective alarms.

“When we aired the last of the six webinars on July 27, we realized we had achieved our goal, and much more,” says Fahimeh Yazdan Panah, Ph.D., director of research and technical development, WPAC. “In total, 125 people participated in the webinars, and passed the quizzes at the end of each one to earn a Safety Foundation Course certificate. They learned how to improve their own safety performance, and how to make our entire industry safer.”

Participants included operating personnel at every level of the pellet plant, supervisors, senior management, control operators, other industry participants, equipment suppliers, and safety professionals.

“The safety foundations training is the latest in many initiatives to strengthen our safety culture, and may be a first for the pellet industry globally,” says WPAC executive director Gordon Murray. “We had strong program content and expert presenters thanks to the involvement of many member companies, and support from WorkSafeBC, the UBC Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group, BioMass Canada and Canadian Biomass magazine.”

The six webinars are each about an hour long. They were divided into three two-part programs examining bow tie analysis, human-machine interface and effective alarms, and safe handling and storage of biomass.

Kayleigh Rayner Brown from Dalhousie University kicked off the series by showing how bow tie analysis can be used to assess combustible dust hazards. This simple tool is the first step in critical control management and provides a simple and effective way to communicate risk assessment results. In the second webinar, Cherie Whelan and Bill Laturnus from the BC Forest Safety Council explained how to identify critical controls to prevent events such as explosions and fires or to mitigate their consequences.

Human-machine interface began with Charles Bloom and Jamie Errington from Human Centered Solutions discussing situational awareness, showing how operators need easy access to key information and effective alarms so they can quickly identify an emerging situation and take action to control it. If operators are overwhelmed they can misinterpret information or make mistakes, which can lead to events that risk safety, the environment, product quality and productivity.

Brian Grantham from West Fraser built on this in the third webinar by demonstrating the benefits of implementing high-performance human-machine interface and alarm rationalization in his company’s pulp division. “High-performance HMI is a scientific approach to redesigning our human machine interfaces to present information in a manner that is consistent with how our human brains work to improve situational awareness and recognize abnormal situations quicker,” he said.

The final two webinars presented best practices for managing the industry’s biggest safety challenges, which include wood pellet off-gassing, self-heating and silo fires, and combustible dust and gas management.

Wood pellets emit gases when they are stored, and this can lead to oxygen depletion or spontaneous combustion. Yazdan Panah told participants in the fifth webinar that it is important to know the amount and rate of this off-gassing when designing a storage system, to make sure there is adequate ventilation, and to watch for anything that could signal a smouldering fire such as a noticeable odour, abnormal temperature readings or unusual amounts of condensation. “It’s important to do everything possible to prevent a fire, and be ready to launch firefighting operations quickly if one does develop,” she said.

In the final session, Jeff Mycroft, regional sales manager at Fike Canada, discussed how to control and manage the hazards associated with combustible dust and combustible gas. He pointed out that combustible dust is the raw material for making pellets, not a waste stream, and pointed to the many options available to control dust, from containment to housekeeping, and the need to be alert to ignition sources such as electrical equipment and static electricity. It is also important to have a risk analysis to know when combustible gases are emitted and accumulate, with alarms and control systems, monitoring systems, backup power generation, keep ducts clean and effective ventilation.

“Safety on the job is everyone’s business,” says Murray. “Our industry has made significant safety advances but we still face the potential of major unwanted events that are hard to prevent by traditional approaches. When it comes to health and safety, everyone associated with a plant—owners, employers, supervisors and employees—has a specific responsibility when it comes to safety.”

The Safety Foundation Webinar series is available here for anyone who wants to access the programs and complete the quizzes to earn a certificate.

For more information, contact:

Fahimeh Yazdan Panah
Director of Research and Technical Development
Wood Pellet Association of Canada

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