SAWMILLS POSE HIGH RISK OF WORKER INJURY
Unlike lumberyards, sawmills are more industrial in nature, and are considered one of the most hazardous occupations by OSHA. Logged timber is typically delivered on-site via flatbed trailer and stacked in a central intake location in the yard. Logs are then transferred via conveyors into the mill where the first stop is the debarker. Just like it sounds, this process removes the bark from the tree. The debarker is a heavy industrial machine with a spinning, grinder-like head that literally chips and grinds the bark off the outer edge of the log. Once debarked, logs are trimmed and fed across an industrial sized table saw with a 60-inch circular saw blade that cuts the debarked logs into boards. Finally, the cut lumber is graded for sale to the builder or lumberyard, whomever the customer may be. Scraps are run through a chipper and made into mulch product and sawdust is collected for resale to equestrian arenas.
The whole process is amazing. It is also high risk. Sawmill workers frequently suffer eye injuries, lacerations, and amputations. Noise exposures are high. Inhalation of sawdust is a constant respiratory exposures. Safety is critical and personal protective equipment is a must in this operation to protect hands, feet, eyes, and ears. Good housekeeping practices are critical to reduce trip hazards created by debris. Machine guarding becomes high priority in an industrial operation of this nature. One small mistake can result in immediate and irreparable harm or fatality.
Sawmills tend to be located in rural areas. Fire risk is high given the amount of wood, chips, and sawdust on site. Wiring can be a concern, as many sawmills have been in business for years and their electrical systems may or may not have been adequately updated throughout the years. Rural locations often have volunteer fire departments and these exposures tend to be located farther away from the responding station, contributing to their risk of fire. These factors make on-site fire protection even more important. Adequate extinguishers should be located throughout the facility, and employees should be trained on fire extinguisher operation. This environment is fraught with hazard. It is the employers’ responsibility, and both the employers’ and employees’ commitment to safety that assures these workers go home to their loved ones at the end of the day.
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