Fall Protection for Sawmills / Paper Mills

Implementing OSHA-compliant fall protection solutions is imperative for workers in Sawmills and Papermills to ensure their safety and enhanced productivity.

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Published on: May 14, 2024

Not Your Run of the Mill Fall Protection for Sawmills and Pulp & Paper Mills

Who hasn’t heard the philosophical thought experiment, “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?”  But if a worker falls in a sawmill or paper mill, what can happen?

The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) considers working in a sawmill one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and further cites pulp and paper manufacturing as extremely hazardous.

Under difficult conditions, workers must navigate through towering stacks of lumber or conveyor belts filled with paper products. Elevated platforms, catwalks, and machinery perches often place workers at heights where a fall could result in a severe injury or fatality. Wet surfaces are another common hazard in sawmills and paper mills.

What are the major fall hazards?

#1 Large machinery and equipment for handling and production that also require inspection, cleaning, and servicing.

  • At sawmills, these often include log debarkers and carriages, saws, edgers, and planers, sorters, stackers, and conveyors, plus drying kilns.
  • At pulp and paper mills, woodchippers and digesters, bleaching towers and pulp washers, paper makers, calenders, reelers and slitters, steam boilers and turbines, and various roll handling equipment.

#2 Storage areas at heights.

#3 Platforms, mezzanines, and other elevated areas that have unprotected edges.

#4 Sawmills and paper mills can be wet environments due to the processing of lumber and the production of pulp and paper. Wet or slippery surfaces increase the risk of slips, trips, and falls.

#5 Handling raw materials, paper rolls, lumber, and other heavy materials can increase the risk of falls.

How can you address fall hazards and mitigate risks?

Working Overhead

Accessing confined areas from above for loading and unloading, machine maintenance, servicing motors of automatic storage racks, and other tasks is easier, safer, and more cost-effective with a lanyard and harness system that secures the worker by a single-point anchor. They are individually engineered to the building structure and work area.

For more far-ranging needs, overhead rigid rail systems allow workers to cover a wide area with only a short potential fall distance. Three types of modular rigid rail systems include:

  1. Single Rigid Rail – features an enclosed track design with superior trolley movement so the retractable lifeline is always directly above the worker.
  2. Cartesian Bridge Rail – offers the functionality of rigid rail in a bridge format. It provides fall protection over large areas above rail cars vehicles, and large in-plant equipment.
  3. Twin Rail – consists of two enclosed tracks with sealed bearing trolleys that can span up to 100 feet between supports and 30 feet cantilevered past the end supports. The system is hands-free for the user traveling along the walking surface.

In addition, catwalks and elevated walkways with anti-slip treads provide safe access from above to sorters, conveyors, and other equipment.

Take a Side with Elevated Work Platforms

Work platforms allow employees to perform their tasks at elevated heights with outstanding freedom of movement. They are ideal for handling production, maintenance, cleaning, and other tasks at large machinery and reaching storage areas.

Modular in design, they are constructed of aluminum or galvanized steel frames and guardrails for strength durability, and corrosion resistance. Anti-slip treads are used for steps and platform floors. Three types of work platforms include:

  1. Static Work Platforms – ideal for frequent use at a single station.
  2. Mobile Work Platforms – fitted with heavy-duty locking casters for station-to-station mobility.
  3. Custom Work Platforms – that can be furnished with services (e.g., electrical, water, shop air) as well as adjustable height.

Well-grounded with Guardrails

Guardrail systems provide compliant fall protection for stairs, walkways, mezzanines, platforms, and open areas on machinery (e.g. a broke hole on a pulper). They also serve as barriers for pedestrian traffic and to define work areas for authorized personnel.

Aluminum and galvanized steel pipe-fitted guardrail systems are installed easily without welding or drilling and are strong, durable, and corrosion-resistant. Modular in design, they can be reconfigured as the working environment and needs evolve.

Guardrail systems can be integrated with self-closing safety gates for added fall protection for stairs, on work platforms, and to designate authorized access. For mezzanines that need to be accessed from the lower level, pallet gates enable the transfer of materials while protecting workers from a fall.

Which solution is best for you?

If you are responsible for the safety of your workers in a sawmill or paper mill, contact Flexible Lifeline Systems. We will discuss your needs and concerns about regulatory compliance, visit your site to conduct a safety audit and map out a plan. Our services can include as little or as much as you need, from design, engineering, and fabrication to installation, training, and other support.

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