Network based systems

Do not ignore the risks associated with wood waste

As demand for construction and renovation projects soared nationwide during the pandemic, the woodworking industry has found itself rather busy. As the industry continues to grow rapidly, companies should take the time now to ensure that they are properly managing their risk exposures.

In particular, wood waste has plagued carpenters as a fire hazard and source of respiratory disease for as long as the industry has existed. Taking the time now to remedy this exposure can save carpentry companies from incidents of employee illness and injury, costly damage and damage to reputation.

Michael Culbreth, Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, is a loss control services consultant based in Inman, South Carolina.

What is wood waste?
Wood waste is the by-product of woodworking operations and can come from a number of sources, including sawing, cutting and milling. Unfortunately, year after year we see fire losses caused by the buildup of sawdust, wood chips and bark in carpentry businesses. These losses can occur for various reasons.

In some businesses, we see a buildup of sawdust and ordinary dust, which tends to dry out as it builds up and forms layers. Any increase in drought increases combustibility as well as the potential for rapid fire spread. This risk is often difficult to avoid, as dust can accumulate in air spaces, around frequently used machinery, and from almost all types of woodworking performed in the facility. We have also seen fires break out due to the spontaneous combustion of piles of wood waste.

Manage your exposure
Losses caused by fires often reach tens of millions of dollars. A costly loss like this could be a major setback for any business. With that in mind, here are some good safety practices for limiting fire exposures in your woodworking facility:

1. Install a dust collection system: A good dust collection system can significantly improve safety in a carpentry business. In small businesses portable dust collectors are often sufficient, but in larger ones outdoor cyclones are often required.

For installations producing smaller wood particles, a bag filter system equipped with spark detection may also be recommended. The spark detection system uses infrared detectors to identify sparks moving through ducts.

This will trigger a downstream water nozzle to extinguish the sparks before they reach the manifold and cause a fire. Automatic dust collection systems are an important step towards mitigating the risk of fire because they minimize dust build-up.

2. Perform regular maintenance: Although a dust collection system is essential, without proper maintenance it will not be effective. We have seen companies that had an advanced bag filter system with spark detection, but due to lack of maintenance the systems were not performing as expected at the time of a fire. That said, routine preventive maintenance checks should be planned and performed to avoid this problem.

The system control panel should be visually inspected daily to ensure the system is in normal operating mode. Any build-up of sawdust on infrared detectors should be removed and nozzles and water strainers should be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

3. Develop a housekeeping program: Carpentry companies should carry out daily cleaning of wood waste. At the end of the day, managers should schedule time for end-of-shift cleaning or have an evening cleaning schedule, so that wood waste does not accumulate.

At the end of the week, a more thorough cleaning should also be scheduled. In addition, ceiling lights, walls and ceilings around equipment should be cleaned periodically using a vacuum approved for a combustible dust atmosphere.

4. Maintain wood waste: As part of the housekeeping program, the proper maintenance of any piles of wood waste should be a priority.

Once the wood waste is removed from the building, business owners and staff should continue to exercise caution. It is important that business owners avoid allowing the accumulation of large piles of sawdust, wood chips, bark or mulch and any piles in general near the building.

Wood waste gives off its own heat as it decomposes, which can cause a fire due to spontaneous combustion. We recommend keeping loose piles at least 100 feet from sawmills and at least 50 feet from any other building.

Bulk batteries should be rotated regularly to reduce internal heat build-up and should be checked with temperature probes to monitor any fire hazard.

5. Follow the safety instructions: Tracking the maintenance of electrical and heating systems is a critical part of facility safety, but there are other guidelines companies should follow as well.

These include the consistent application of a safe smoking policy, including the proper disposal of cigarettes, and ensuring that staff follow proper fire safety procedures for hot work, including including obtaining the relevant hot work permits.

Ensure staff safety
Apart from these property protection measures, carpentry business owners will want to make sure they have a safe operating environment for their staff. Employees should wear dust masks or respirators in dusty and high concentration environments where they could have allergic or respiratory reactions.

Faced with new business challenges almost every day, it’s important that carpentry facility owners don’t lose sight of more traditional risk exposures.

Although wood waste has been a risk that threatens carpentry businesses for many years, business owners can take steps to protect their businesses.

For an assessment of the risks to your business, including wood waste and more, contact your insurer or producer. A good niche lumber insurer will have a loss control team, whose members can assess your facility’s unique risk exposures and provide advice to help you mitigate that risk.

Simple yet personalized advice like this can help a business significantly reduce its exposure to risk and protect the business for the future.

Biography : Michael Culbreth, Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, is a loss control services consultant based in Inman, SC who joined PLM in 2002. He protects businesses in territories such as North Carolina and Carolina from South. Michael can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 267-825-9146.

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