PFI Report: BC Forest Safety, WPAC unveil safety audits
July 25, 2011 - The Canadian wood pellet industry is about to get serious about plant and employee safety, as WPAC unveils a new program to U.S. manufacturers.
Gord Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, and Stephen Chaplin, director, training and program development, BC Forest Safety Council, gave PFI 2011 Annual Conference attendees a sneak peak at a new system being developed to promote and improve pellet mill safety. Citing an unacceptable safety record, recent incidents at some of Canada's larger plants, and rapidly climbing workers' compensation insurance rates, Murray said the need to focus attention on the safety issue has never been greater.
"We have members who have been denied insurance. We have insurance providers simply getting out of the pellet insurance market. We've seen WCB (Worker's Compensation Board) rates increase by 54% in just three years. It's not sustainable."
To combat this disturbing trend, WPAC has joined forces with the BC Forest Safety Council, a non-profit, industry-funded organization that started tackling timber harvesting safety after the disastrous fatality numbers tallied in 2005. While the pellet program is just in the fact-finding and consultation phase, the goal is to roll out a SAFE Certification system similar to that developed for harvesting operations. That system has been credited with a 45% drop in incident rates and a 25% drop in WCB rates in the harvesting sector. The pellet mill audit system will be designed with input from both pellet manufacturers and the insurance sector. It will be launched first in British Columbia, but both Murray and Chaplin noted that it will be designed to be used in any jurisdiction.
"Our desire is to improve safety for pellet manufacturers across the industry," Murray said in response to a question from a U.S.-based pellet manufacturer. "The system is in its early days, and we're basing it on the BC Forest Safety Council model used for logging. We think it will transfer well to the pellet process, and when we're done, we'll have an audit system that fits any pellet mill. Once we do, we'd be delighted to help roll it out in other areas."
Look for pilot audits this fall.