Maine lumber mill yields benefits of better safety
(Pictured above: Jim Henderson, Limington Operations Manager and Lonnie Kollander, Safety Manager)
A Maine lumber mill has seen lower injury rates, lower turnover better employee morale and an improved safety culture since partnering with government agencies to help make inherently high-hazard work tasks safer.
Located in the Saco River Valley – known for its quality White Pine for over 300 years – Limington Lumber Company was founded in 1961. The company purchased a mill site in East Baldwin, Maine, in 1967. Today the sawmill and planing facility produces over 18 million board feet of Eastern White Pine annually, specializing in patterns. Limington markets its products to established wholesalers throughout the United States and Canada.
"We have always worked with a safety first motto and have always strived to maintain a safe working environment," said Win Smith, Jr., President of Limington Lumber.
Working in a sawmill is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. The equipment poses numerous hazards. Massive weights and falling, rolling, and sliding logs can be very dangerous. The woodworking operations of a sawmill can also be hazardous, particularly when machines are used improperly or without proper safeguards. Woodworking employees often suffer from the following injuries: lacerations, amputations, severed fingers, and blindness. Wood dust and chemicals used for finishing products may cause skin and respiratory diseases. Sawmill hazards are even more dangerous when environmental conditions are factored in, such as uneven, unstable, or rough terrain; inclement weather; or isolated work sites where health care facilities are not immediately accessible.
While researching workplace safety and health resources, the company learned about the Maine Department of Labor's SafetyWorks! training and safety consultation program. MDOL's SafetyWorks! is an outreach program designed to reduce job-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths, and its services include training, on-site consultation, and information sharing. This completely voluntary program is funded through a Federal (90 percent) and State (10 percent) grant, so there is no charge to the employer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, On-Site Consultation Program, offers free and confidential safety and occupational health advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country and in several territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.
General safety and health issues that commonly exist in saw and planing mill industry facilities include: recordkeeping, ergonomic stress, warehousing, powered industrial truck safety, and machine guarding. Keeping safety a priority and addressing hazards quickly paid off for this company. In 2006, during the first On-Site Consultation visit at Limington Lumber, damaged electrical cords and machine guarding hazards were identified. The company corrected all of the hazards the MDOL SafetyWorks! consultant identified, but they did not stop there. A safety committee, consisting of people from all levels of the company was established. Now, worker self-inspections and safety meetings occur monthly, and an accident investigation and inspection program was developed.
In 2008, Limington Lumber became one of the first six businesses in Maine to earn the OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) designation. SHARP recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program services and operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program. Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles an employer out among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health. Earning this award was the culmination of a lot of hard work by all of the employees at Limington Lumber, and this designation is a source of pride. Over the years, the company has maintained its participation in this elite program. Their most recent SHARP renewal was earned in 2016.
The company has appreciated the advantages of having fewer injuries and illnesses since working with the MDOL SafetyWorks! consultants and achieving SHARP. Benefits include low turnover, good employee morale, improved safety culture, and low injury rates. In 2012, Limington Lumber's Total Recordable Case Rate (TRC) rate was 6.6, and their Days Away from Work, Job Transfer and Restriction (DART) rate was zero. In 2013, the TRC rate was 2.3, and the DART was 2.3. The 2014, TRC was 3.9, and the DART rate was zero. In 2015, the TRC was 1.9, and the DART rate was zero. In comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national average TRC rate for this industry in 2012 was 6.3; in 2013, it was 6.0; in 2014, it was 6.4; and in 2015, it was 7.3. BLS reported the national average DART rate in 2012 was 3.5; in 2013, it was 3.6; in 2014, it was 3.5; and in 2015, it was 4.1. (Note: 2015 is the most recent year BLS TRC and DART data are available for this industry.) Over time, reducing the injury and illness rates contributed to savings in reduced workers compensation insurance premiums and related cost associated with such claims. "While saving money is important, it is no match for the peace of mind that comes from seeing everyone go home at the end of their shift tired, but healthy," said Smith.
Source: Win Smith, Jr., President, Limington Lumber Company