New work standards for sawmill planers

New work standards for sawmill planers in B.C. are expected to make the work environment safer—and contribute to an increase in planer efficiency.

By Jim Stirling

New standards designed to make working around planers safer for B.C. sawmill crews will soon be made available to industry. The safety measures are also expected to contribute to a significant increase in operational planer efficiency.

The planer safety recommendations are the result of a collaborative examination of the issue by the British Columbia Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) and WorkSafeBC. The latter group was preparing a final report on the proposal at press time.

Work on the file began when the industry’s Manufacturers Advisory Group (MAG) began looking at safeguarding in a sawmill/wood processing plant context. The MAG serves in an advisory capacity and reports to the board of the BCFSC. The Coast Harvesting Advisory Group, the Wood Pellet Association of Canada safety committee and the Trucking & Harvesting Advisory Group are other specialist committees operating in similar functions within the BCFSC.

The MAG was originally formed in 2009 when about a dozen forest licencees’ representatives operating in B.C. met periodically to share best practices in forest safety. The MAG became the nucleus of the forest industry response to the 2012 sawmill explosions and fires at two separate sawmills in central B.C. The incidents killed a total of four people and injured scores more.

The result of the response to the tragedies was the creation of an audit standard for the forest industry around the containments of combustible dust in wood processing plants. The decision was made by the CEOs of the licencees involved to formalize the MAG. In April, 2015, the MAG took up its current role within the BCFSC structure.

MAG members quizzed sawmill owners and operators on areas within their plants that might benefit from a more effective safety standard guarding control. Several areas were identified by respondents, including guarding issues associated with the principal equipment involved with the log breakdown sequence. But it was improvements in and around the planer that emerged as one of the key areas of common safety concern, recalls Darren Beattie, safety director with Conifex Timber Inc., a member company of the MAG.

Modern planers are high speed precision machines. They’re asked to handle a wood fibre diet these days that is frequently dry and more prone to breakage. Jam-ups are relatively frequent as a result, to the infeed and fibre flow through the planer. Worker safety issues arise while dealing with the jam-ups to restore productive material flow.

“It’s an area where serious injuries can happen,” reports Beattie.

A risk assessment planning process was followed with an engineering design for a planer safeguarding system. The MAG worked closely with WorkSafeBC throughout these stages, adds Beattie.

One of the challenges encountered revolved around seemingly contradictory regulations and definitions concerning what exactly constitutes maintenance and production modes in the context of planer operation. That, in turn, influenced the appropriate procedures that should be followed by workers, he explains.

The MAG and WorkSafeBC concluded a safe, workable device option was needed with a prior approved status. “We looked to technology and the infinite ways it offers to safely manage a planer room.”

The partners were looking for the most suitable control to safeguard against common worker habits like reaching in to equipment or venturing where they shouldn’t to solve a production disturbance. The proposed safeguard system works like a programmable logic computer, says Beattie. It can perform a variety of functions to ensure creation of a safer planer room. The proposed safeguard system has the additional ability to monitor itself, he continues. “This control is better suited because it’s passive, automatic and equipment won’t fire up,” summarizes Beattie. He notes similar types of devices have been used in other industries including food processing and automotive manufacturing.

The MAG investigative team reckons adoption of the proposed planer safeguard system will deliver the additional benefit of increased efficiency. “We estimate time losses due to (planer) jam-ups will be down by at least 30 per cent with this safeguard system,” predicts Beattie. “The planer room safeguard system will give the worker confidence that the room will be safe—and we also believe system use will reduce reduce mill downtime,” he concludes.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
February 2017

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New work standards for sawmill planers
New work standards for sawmill planers in B.C. are expected to make the work environment safer—and contribute to an increase in planer efficiency.

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