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Safety Management Insights

The 4 Biggest Safety Hazards in the Lumber Industry

Posted by Don Brown on Nov 25, 2014 8:00:00 AM

The biggest safety hazards in the Lumber IndustryLogging remains one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. In 2010, the logging industry had 95,000 workers and accounted for 70 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a rate more than 21 times higher than the overall fatality rate of 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2010. 

The hazards carry over from the forest to the lumber yard, where employees routinely operate various types of saws and other hazardous machinery. 

So safety hazards in the lumber industry are most common? We asked Jennifer Rudy, corporate safety manager for Swanson Group, a forest products company based in southern Oregon, what safety hazards keep her up at night and what she’s done to address them. 

Forklifts

Forklifts are a common site at Swanson Group, and Rudy has good reason to be concerned about them.

Forklifts or industrial trucks cause about 96,000 injuries each year in the United States alone, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of those, more than a third—about 34,900—are serious injuries, and 85 are fatalities. 

OSHA requires all employees to undergo specific training before operating a forklift, and fines can be as high as $10,000. 

That’s a lot of worker training to manage. One of the easiest ways to keep track of who has had forklift training is by storing records online with a training management software system.

For more tips on promoting forklift safety in the workplace, check out this post.  

Lockout/Tagout

In a lumber mill, there’s hazardous equipment at every turn. There are machines that process the logs by stripping away the bark, round saws to cut them in half and sawmills to break them into squares. 

There are also transfer chains and kickers to move the logs along, which are also dangerous. 

Rudy realized it wasn’t enough to train workers just once on the various types of equipment, so each work is trained at every machine center once a year. 

Swanson Group also has a color-coated and number lockout/tagout program and maintains digital records of it in BasicSafe’s lockout/tagout software. It also uses the “buddy system” where employees are required to not only review the procedures for using unfamiliar equipment, but also have hands-on training under supervision. 

“Our policy is that they have to read the job hazard analysis before they start a new job. But if you’ve never done the job, nothing replaces spending time working alongside someone with more experience.”

Falls

Working at heights is part of the routine for many Swanson employees. Although some have been working there 10 years or more, they frequently rotate jobs to learn new skills, Rudy said. That means on any given day, there may be several employees working in an unfamiliar area. Even seasoned veterans need reminders of the proper anchor points for their fall protection harnesses and other safety elements they may miss. 

That’s why in addition to reviewing JHAs like they would before using new equipment, employees who are working in a new area are paired with someone who has more experience in that location.  

“The buddy system takes a lot more time, but it’s really worth it,” Rudy said. “We’re giving them the fair amount of time they need to learn the job.” 

Wearing PPE

Wearing the right personal protective equipment, such as hard hats and safety goggles, is a basic responsibility of each worker. But with so many employees spread across the state, Rudy can’t watch every worker at all times. That’s why she relies on her supervisors and conducts rigorous audits. 

“With BasicSafe’s auditing tool, I can audit by supervisor. I can audit by observation. If a supervisor has not done audits, you can tell. I’ll walk on the floor and if I see someone is fidgeting with their PPE because they saw me coming, that’s an indicator they weren’t wearing it or weren’t wearing it properly.”

While auditing each mill, Rudy can also access the standard operating procedures for each site by logging into BasicSafe from her mobile phone. 

She can check the JHA for a particular job, see what the recommended procedures are and how that compares to how the worker is doing the job. 

Using a safety software system for the past three years has helped Rudy manage the risks most common to her industry. It has also allowed her to track incidents and near-misses and take proactive steps to avoid them. 

For more tips on how a safety management system can help your company prevent hazards, contact BasicSafe today for a demo of our software tools.

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