Sawmills have been around for hundreds of years helping to build modern society and fuel our economy. While these institutions have long histories of keeping America humming, they also are no strangers to tragic injuries, deadly accidents and fires that have literally brought down the business.
Like many businesses in the lumber industry, sawmills require heavy-duty machinery, specialized equipment, and extensive electrical systems for daily operations. The use of this equipment on a day-to-day basis opens the door for accidents leading to employee injury and catastrophic fires. However, with the right safety measures in place sawmill managers can mitigate these risks and address key safety areas to keep their businesses running smoothly.
Some important safety areas to focus on:
- General Housekeeping – Sawmill managers should implement a solid housekeeping program to ensure that sawdust, wood chips, and bark that have built up during the day is safely removed from the building daily. A strong and efficient plan is written down, trained upon regularly, and re-enforces responsibility and accountability amongst employees. The sawmill basic cleanup procedure should be followed daily along with a more comprehensive cleanup performed at the end of every week. Materials that can build up, if left unchecked, become more combustible with time, and create a severe fire hazard.
- Hot Work Program – Hot work activity such as welding, torch cutting and grinding, present an ignition source especially in sawmills and pallet manufacturers. In fact, welding is often the leading cause of sawmill fires each year. OSHA offers general safety and health tips for hot work. While these are helpful, a written hot work permit program is necessary to create a system of checks and balances between the welder, fire watcher and Permit Authorizing Individual (PAI).
- Electrical Maintenance – Ensure all electrical and machinery maintenance work is being done by experienced and qualified/licensed personnel. At least twice per year, open the electric panel boxes and remove any sawdust that has built up inside. Conduct an electrical infrared thermography scan on a yearly basis. Infrared thermography is beneficial for fire safety reasons, extends the lifespan of motors and equipment, and saves costs by avoiding unnecessary energy consumption.
- Machinery Maintenance – Good maintenance keeps machinery in proper working condition and makes it less likely to cause a fire. It also lessens breakdowns and reduces machinery downtime that can bring business to a halt. Sawmill managers should create checklists to help track every step of the business’s preventative maintenance program. As with all operations within a sawmill, each employee responsible for maintenance should be well trained and qualified to handle the task at hand.
- Backup Plan – When it comes to protecting employees and dealing with fire hazards, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Sawmill managers should identify which first response fire department will be at their sawmill and work with the local fire department to create an emergency fire plan. They should also work with a specialized loss control representative who is familiar with the specific hazards of the lumber business and can help ensure they are doing everything possible to keep their employees and business safe.
- Equipment Safety – Keeping safety concerns a priority for everyone is critical to operating a safe sawmill. This means both implementing equipment safety procedures and ensuring workers are properly trained in their daily work tasks. Inadequate safety measures on or around equipment can lead to worker injuries, lost work time and costly workers’ compensation claims.
A good sawmill safety plan should have many components but designing such a plan and implementing it does not have to be difficult. Working with a good insurer who knows the wood niche, can significantly ease the burden by offering risk assessments, as well as loss control tips and programs. A simple professional risk assessment of the facility can go a long way. While your sawmill may have been operating without a significant incident for years, it is always a smart decision to evaluate your risk and do what you can to reduce that risk exposure for the safety of your employees and the future of your business.
PLM’s Loss Control Representatives are here to partner with our customers to help mitigate areas of risk within their organization through consultative services and helpful recommendations. These unique professionals are not only seasoned experts in all aspects of risk management, but also have in-depth knowledge of the wood industry to help our customers with any risks that may impact their business. In addition, we have an extensive library of safety guides, resources, and services that can be found online at our Loss Control Center.