The pulp and paper industry is among the oldest and largest in North America. But for all its productivity, pulp and paper workers are exposed to many hazards and suffer numerous injuries each year.
Among the various hazards affecting the industry, OSHA lists lacerations and being crushed by huge weights. There are also risks of getting maimed during logging or at the mill, getting poisoned and being burned.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10,000 recordable injuries in paper manufacturing in 2015, so to ensure everyone’s safety, employers must be keenly aware of a few key issues that affect the safety of every worker in the pulp and paper industry.
Noise exposure can reach high levels and to protect employees’ hearing, it’s imperative that pulp and paper companies adopt preventative measures such as purchasing low-noise machinery, reducing noise levels, investing in noise barriers and staying on top of the development of other noise-reduction solutions. Employers must also provide adequate ear protection and implement a safety program that targets PPE compliance. Monitoring noise levels must also happen regularly.
The pulp and paper industry uses many substances that are hazardous to workers’ health and dangerous to local communities. These substances include gaseous sulfur compounds, chlorine and chlorine dioxide, and sulfuric acid.
These hazards can be addressed in several ways. First, proper storage is important and safe drums, spill berms and spill containment pallets are recommended. Additionally, appropriate PPE should be provided. However, simply handing workers their PPE doesn’t guarantee safety or compliance. If it’s the wrong size or it doesn’t provide adequate protection for the chemicals involved then workers will still be at risk. And last but not least, PPE should also be in good repair and replaced when its condition deteriorates.
Crushing and amputation hazards are very real threats to workers in a paper mill, which is why regular inspections of guards should be made. This allows EHS professionals to spot any issues and stop work until safety problems can be resolved.
Additionally, proper lockout/tagout processes must be followed to control hazardous energy when traditional controls have been removed or briefly disabled. When there is inconsistency in these procedures, workers are put at potentially fatal risk. This is why there should always be a strict system in place for shutting down machinery.
The human factors
Workers don’t intentionally get themselves hurt, but human factors can lead people to compromise their own safety every day. Factors such as fatigue and working on auto-pilot influence alertness and performance, significantly increasing the risk of incidents. Teaching workers how to self-trigger on these states and how to approach them successfully will help them prevent errors such as forgetting to perform vital lockout/tagout steps at the end of a long shift.
Successful human factors programs also aim to contribute to a better safety culture through reporting unsafe conditions (e.g., a leaking drum) and looking out for others. The latter is not done with the intention of reporting them, but of making safety everyone’s responsibility. This encourages people to remind their co-workers of safe practices (such as wearing ear protection after noticing that someone forgot to put it on) instead of ignoring such behavior.
The production of pulp and paper is a vital part of the economy. The well-being of employees in this industry must always come first, and addressing noise, mechanical and chemical hazards, as well as human factors, is vital to reducing the number of injuries and fatalities recorded each year at pulp and paper companies.