Changes to combustible dust: New regulations coming for B.C. industries

By Andrew Snook   

Features combustible dust dust safety dust safety regulations editor pick


In British Columbia’s forestry sector, there has been no year in recent history filled with more preventable tragedies than 2012. In January of 2012, the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake suffered an explosion that resulted in the deaths of two workers while injuring 20 others. A few months later in April 2012, about a 2.5-hour drive from Burns Lake in B.C.’s Northern Interior, the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George exploded, killing another two workers and injuring 22 more people. The investigations into these explosions found one culprit responsible: combustible dust. Since that time, regulations have been tightened to ensure better management of combustible dust throughout the province.

B.C.’s management of combustible dust was the topic of the closing keynote presentation for the 2024 Global Dust Safety Conference, which took place earlier this year. The presentation, “Upcoming release process for the proposed British Columbia regulations for combustible dust. Why they are needed and what it means for industries in B.C.,” was presented by Rodney Scollard, senior policy and legal advisor, and Mike Tasker, CRSP occupational safety officer with WorkSafeBC.

They reviewed proposed upcoming regulation changes regarding combustible dust in the province; provided a background on what drove regulation change in B.C. over the past decade; the timeline for the new regulations to come into effect; the roadmap to combustible dust hazard assessment and management provided in the regulations; and what these changes may mean for industries in B.C.


When the sawmill explosions took place in 2012, WorkSafeBC had enacted Workers Compensation Act policies related to the general duties of employers, workers and supervisors in relation to how they identify and manage the risk associated with wood dust. The currently proposed regulations expands on the policies related to wood dust.

“The provisions we have currently around combustible dust, and controlling the hazards associated with it, is very limited, and not very detailed,” Scollard explained. “So, there’s been this drive now to introduce specific dust-related regulations within our occupational health and safety regulation.

And in doing so, these new regulations will ultimately replace those three current policies that were introduced after the 2012 incidents.”

Regulation changes 

While the focus of WorkSafeBC has understandably been on regulations related to combustible wood dust, the proposed regulations would expand the types of dusts within the regulations.

“Most of our focus from a regulation perspective has been devoted to combustible wood dust. Certainly, that is an issue that we needed to address. So, under the proposed regulation, it’s been greatly expanded to any dust that is handled or generated at the workplace,” Tasker said. “That ‘handled or generated’ is an important aspect. We’re not talking about the dust that might accumulate on a windowsill. We’re talking about dust that is either handled or generated. So, handled or generated through pulverizing processes, grinding processes, material size reduction processes, and that sort of thing. Handled meaning things like conveying it, moving it, storing it, those kinds of examples.”

The type of dust within the proposed regulation could include wood dust, agricultural dust, plastic dust, manufactured powders and lint.

“If it’s combustible, then it’s covered by the regulation,” Tasker said.

Dust that is in sealed commercial packaging is excluded from the proposed regulation.

“A sealed bag of shavings for a rabbit cage in a pet store is not covered by this regulation, it’s excluded,” Tasker said, as an example.

While the current version of the proposed regulation on the WorkSafeBC website, “Part 6, Substance Specific Requirements: Combustible Dusts,” is not the finalized approved version of the regulation, Tasker said that he believes it is very close to a final version.

“We don’t know exactly what the final version of the regulation is going to look like. However, I think, in my personal opinion, we’re getting pretty close to that,” he told attendees. “We’ve been working through the consultation process now for over a year, where we’re pretty clear on what has been recommended and what has been adopted. So, I don’t foresee a lot of significant changes. But we just want to make it clear that the version of the regulation that you may access from our website is still a working draft, until it actually gets finalized and approved by our board of directors, and then moves forward through the rest of the approval process.”

When putting together the proposed regulations, Tasker said they tried to find a balance between performance-based regulation and prescriptive-based regulation.

“Because this regulation is intended to cover workplaces that are both simple and complex, very large to very small, we had to strive to find a scalable regulation that could be applied across the board,  regardless of the size or complexity of your operation,” he said. “In order to do that, we had to find a balance between those two regulatory methodologies.”

To address the performance-based aspect of the regulation, they expanded the requirements around conducting a risk assessment, so the risk assessment takes into consideration the characteristics of the dust, as well as the machinery and equipment that exists at a given workplace. It also expands the requirements for employers that have combustible dust, to have a combustible dust management program, Tasker explained.

“We also have a section that is more specific, more prescriptive in nature, that stipulates specific control measures that must be in place for particular risks or particular types of equipment. And it does provide some guidance specifically to those,” Tasker said.

An assumption clause has been put into the proposed regulations to help address a notion of understanding about particular dusts, while reducing costs for employers.

“For every employer to take representational samples of every dust they have, and to send it to a lab for testing, paying the money for that, and all the associated costs with it, was just overly burdensome, especially for small- and medium-sized employers,” Tasker said. “We also recognize that some dusts are easily recognizable as combustible. We don’t need to conduct those tests in order to understand and manage those dusts.”

To simplify things for employers, the assumption clause states if a workplace handles or generates a dust, employers must assume it’s ignitable and deflagrable, unless they do one of two things: test the dust or show evidence that it is not combustible.

“If you believe that the dust that you have at your workplace is not a combustible dust, you can send a sample to a lab, follow [WorkSafeBC’s] methodology and confirm that it is, in fact, not a combustible dust,” Tasker said. “Because we understand that there’s access to published data on various dusts, if you believe that your dust at your workplace is not combustible, you can rely on that objective published data, provided that it’s been derived from the prescribed testing method that’s indicated in the regulation.”

Risk assessment 

Once a company has dealt with the assumption clause, they can proceed to the next step in the process, which is to begin a risk assessment. Every employer in B.C. that has a combustible dust at the workplace is required to conduct a risk assessment in consultation with a qualified person.

“Within the regulation, it outlines the risk assessment process that needs to be followed; the types of things that need to be considered, in order for it to be a valid risk assessment. And we also provide language as to when that risk assessment has to be reviewed and updated,” Tasker said. “For example, if there’s a change in materials or machinery or processes, then there’s a requirement to go back and review and update your risk assessment to reflect those changes.”

For the definition of a qualified person used by WorkSafeBC for the proposed regulation, the organization adopted the universal definition of qualified that WorkSafeBC relies on in Occupational Health and Safety Section 1.1.

“We didn’t come up with a specialized definition of qualified for the purposes of combustible dust,” Tasker explained.

After a risk assessment is completed and combustible dust has been identified in a workplace, the next step is to develop a combustible dust management program.

The combustible dust management program should outline how to manage that risk, and what controls need to be put in place.

“Those controls can be many, can be few, depending on the on the nature of the workplace and the nature of the risk,” Tasker said. “This program is a written program that has to be developed by the employer, and once again, under consultation with a qualified person. And within the regulation, we also stipulate the basic elements of a combustible dust management program in order for it to be considered adequate to manage the risk.”

The five factors

The risk assessment and specific requirements that flow from within the proposed regulation are aimed at tackling these factors:

– What is the type and amount of fuel (dust) that’s present at the workplace? How much of it and what type is it?

– What sources of ignition are around in that workplace that could ignite the dust?

– What degree is there potential is for confinement of the dusts?

– What is the possibility of the dust being dispersed or suspended in the air?

– And to a lesser extent, what amount of oxygen is present?

“That’s really what a lot of the provisions and requirements in the draft are flowing from, and what they’re aiming towards is having the employer control those five factors at their workplace,” Scollard explained.


At the time of this article’s publication, the proposed regulation was still undergoing consultation in its draft format and is subject to change. Feedback was being accepted until May 17, 2024. “Part 6, Substance Specific Requirements — Combustible Dusts” is available to download at the WorkSafe BC website at: www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/lawpolicy/discussion-papers/part-6-substance-specific-requirements-combustible-dusts-2024-may?lang=en.

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