Canadian Biomass Magazine

WPAC Safety Workshop summary: taking wood pellet safety to new levels

November 2, 2023
By Wood Pellet Association of Canada

Image: WorkSafeBC

On Sept. 18, 2023, the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC), with the support of the BC Forest Safety Council, Obex Risk, Dalhousie University and WorkSafeBC held a safety workshop: Taking Safety to New Levels: The Next 25 Years. Over 25 people from coast to coast, as well as guests from Sweden, participated.

The overall intent of the session was to ensure safety is keeping up with the pace of the industry. The group discussed the enhanced adoption of process safety management (PSM), focusing on two critical drivers: inherently safer design (ISD) and safety culture. The participants identified key issues, trends and opportunities to strengthen safety across our sector.

Recommendations coming out of the session include:

  • WPAC engaging CEOs and decision-makers to achieve buy-in for PSM.
  • Encourage participation in monthly safety meetings.
  • Hold a process safety in wood products manufacturing symposium.
  • Wood Pellet & Bioenergy Safety Summit in November 2023 to include avoiding complacency, effective communications and train-the-trainer program and knowledge transfer. (register for the session here)

Paul Amyotte, P.Eng., distinguished research professor and professor of chemical engineering at Dalhousie University facilitated the session and spoke to PSM and ISD.


PSM is an organization’s all-encompassing program to ensure that people, property, the environment, and business operations are protected from loss-producing incidents. It includes a broad range of elements, from hazard analysis of safety culture to key performance indicators, which all work together to achieve safer operations and include all levels of a plant from leadership to the frontline workers.

ISD focuses on the elimination and treatment of hazards at the source, rather than relying on only add-on equipment and procedures. Evidence shows that ISD may make plants more economical through reduced risk, capital cost, and requirements associated with more complex risk management controls. ISD also supports continuous improvement.

Participants identified opportunities to raise awareness and encourage voluntary implementation of PSM including:

  • Holding a process safety in wood products symposium.
  • Identifying gaps, resources and learning materials to communicate, share and ensure the industry retains knowledge.
  • Exploring a train-the-trainer program as part of LEAN manufacturing principles.
  • Identifying metrics for benchmarking.
  • Providing resources to enhance leadership buy-in and accountability.
  • Exploring ways to create PSM ownership.
  • Consider establishing a team dedicated to dust and fire management prevention that meets regularly, audits and shares outcomes and aspects of incidents and near misses, which can help support the prevention of large incidents, like fires and explosions.

Amyotte also spoke to safety culture with learnings and best practices discussed. Safety culture is how things are done in an organization, including shared practices, attitudes and perceptions that influence behaviour. In a company with an effective culture, employees share common values that worker health and safety is paramount. Management is committed and visible, everyone throughout the organization actively participates, and there is good communication between all levels of employees. People anticipate unsafe acts, engage in injury and disease prevention, and, most importantly, take ownership of health and safety issues.

Karen Brandt of Brandt Strategy Inc. spoke about communicating safety in the 21st century. We now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish: humans have an average attention span of eight seconds; a goldfish nine seconds. Information has to be communicated in ways workers absorb information. Workshop participants emphasized that the younger workforce in particular like learning opportunities to be informal, and interactive (i.e., quizzes and simulations) that they can access anywhere. They like to gamify learning with points, rewards and badges. Microlearning is key – one topic in less than five minutes built out in various digital formats (i.e., blogs, videos).

Participants discussed ways to encourage a positive safety culture, which include:

  • Creating a safe space to communicate safety concerns.
  • Rewarding people for speaking up.
  • Sharing safety responsibilities, giving people authority and the opportunity to provide solutions.
  • Ensuring we don’t become complacent.

Jose Barranco of WorkSafeBC spoke to WorkSafeBC’s Process Safety Initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to eliminate catastrophic incidences in workplaces across B.C. WorkSafeBC engages with industries involving major hazards and focuses on risk management and the management of critical controls. Their next steps are to focus on human factors and the reliance on procedures and add-on controls.

Read the summary report here.

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