Health And Safety Risks in Sawmills

A volunteer group met up last summer in North Bay, Ont. at the Workplace Safety North (WSN) headquarters to discuss a workplace risk assessment. Representatives from fifteen different sawmills including management, government, labor and others were asked the simple question “What keeps you up at night?” and the answer is not as obvious as you may think.

While the thought of a slip and fall near a wood chipper or having a tree sized log moving through the air may keep employees and management worried, the top risk that everyone agreed on was Substance Abuse.

The worry of substance abuse in the workplace is not only an issue in the sawmill industry, it is a worry in all workplaces. The issue does not stop at drugs and alcohol, but includes prescription medications. The simple action of taking more than prescribed medications can cause a lap in judgement and put your workplace at risk.

“A lot of businesses ask WSN for help in creating a drug and alcohol policy for their workplace,” says Tom Welton, WSN Industrial Director. “Sample policies are available, and we recommend contacting the local health unit as an excellent resource for policy development.”

The other risks that were discussed were training issues, age, psycho social stress and working from heights.

“Overall, the outcome of the risk assessment workshop was very interesting in that the number one risk was not on Workplace Safety North’s radar as a priority concern,” says Welton. “Historically, WSIB [Workplace Safety and Insurance Board] statistics were used to provide a clear picture of workplace injuries and trends, but by using leading rather than lagging indicators, WSN can be more proactive.” While this assessment was conducted in Ontario, Canada, similar risk would be found in similar workplaces all over the world. Make sure that your workplace not only has a general workplace safety policy but also a drug and alcohol policy as well.

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